From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

We are no strangers to pain as we all have experienced different degrees of pain and suffering in our lives. But the past two years of COVID have made us all even more vulnerable to all sorts of physical, mental and/or spiritual trials or attacks that can break the best of us and cause us to be susceptible to all sort unexpected anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological disorders, and even moral and spiritual failures. Even though we should now feel safer as so many are fully vaccinated against the virus, the fact is we still feel so vulnerable, including myself.

Some telltale signs that we may be burnout or on the brink of breaking under the stress are that we are easily irritable, constantly negative, quickly becoming impatient, lacking in self control in our emotions, inability for positive rational thinking, developing low self-esteem, and losing our vision and the ability to deal with the everyday pressures of life. When we find ourselves being unable to cope in such situations, we become angry with the world, with others and some ultimately with ourselves for being so helpless. In trying to cope, we can become defensive and aggressive, becoming totally out of character from our normal self. We become the epicenter of all that are going wrong in the world, around us and in our lives, and bitterness and negativity consumes us. Even though we are Christians, even Christian leaders, we cry out to God and lament, saying “Why?” and “Why me?”

The season of Lent is here, our question is, what is Lent and how does Lent and the practices in Lent help us cope with the pressure of life that we are all facing now in the pandemic? Up front, the answer is, we turn our eyes upon Jesus, and away from the wind and the waves around us.

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday which marked the beginning of the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) before sundown on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. These are the most important dates in the Christian calendar, followed and observed more closely within Churches with liturgical traditions. By observing the 40 days of Lent, some Christians also attempt to replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.

Lent is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the three pillars of Lenten practices, in preparation to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection at Easter. Prayer is to help us walk closer to God. Fasting is the practice of self-control, to abstain from the luxuries of life so as to turn our heart to Christ. This is practised in many Christian churches where Christians are urged to give up something during Lent to help them focus on Christ. Almsgiving is the intentional giving to the poor and needy.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all good Christian disciplines that we can practise throughout the year. But to do that more intentionally during Lent, a preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is especially meaningful. The sacrifice of Christ, the death and the resurrection of Christ are at the very heart of the Christian faith. In the practice of prayer, fasting (or giving up of certain personal pleasures during Lent) and almsgiving, we are reminded to reflect on the tremendous sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in giving up everything in heaven to come and pay the penalties for our sins.

As mentioned, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  There is no mention of Ash Wednesday (nor Lent) in the Bible, and it is a tradition of the Church. However, there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are also other associations of ashes and repentance in the Old Testament books of Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Some people trace the origin of this church tradition even to ancient Rome, but Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, ended this practice in the reformation. For us, if we observe this day, it is to help us to start the season of Lent in humble repentance as we meditate on why Christ had to suffer and die for us on the cross.

In some churches, Ash Wednesday is observed with a prayer service. Typically, during the service, the priest (pastor) would mark the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person with some ashes. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, His followers carry and wave palm branches to welcome Him, singing “hosanna.” Nowadays, sometimes the ash used for Ash Wednesday is made of palm branches used on the Palm Sunday of the previous year, burnt into ashes. We can see how this symbolism of the cross of ashes on the forehead can be a powerful reminder that we are all saved by the death of Christ.

Whether we have this practice or not, the important thing is to start the season of Lent with a reflective and repentant heart and become more impacted by the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. This year we are going to hold two mini silent retreats in March (in Cantonese) to prepare ourselves to celebrate Easter.  Hope you can come and join us.

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Simon