Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 1 - Events Which Lent Recalls


Is not this the aim of Lent, is not this, indeed, the purpose of the Christian Year, namely, to prompt His followers to “remember Jesus Christ”?

Certain supreme events in the life of our Lord have been selected, and assigned to definite days of the calendar, in order that the recurrence of these days may call to mind these events; for the association of ideas is the controlling law of memory. Among these days the most regarded are Christmas, which celebrates the Savior's birth; Palm Sunday, which commemorates His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem; Good Friday, the day of His crucifixion; and Easter, the day of His resurrection. To these often are added a variable list of feasts and fasts, to complete the round of a “Church Year.”

The ancient Hebrews had a similar cycle of sacred seasons. The times of these “Feasts” are related to the number seven. The seventh day was the weekly Sabbath; seven weeks after Passover, which was the first annual festival, came Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks. The seventh month was the sacred month; it included the Feast of Trumpets, the Great Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The seventh year was a Sabbatical Year and after “seven sevens” came the Year of Jubilee.

Supreme among all these sacred days was the Sabbath. It was devoted to rest and worship. Two reasons were assigned for its observance: one, that God had completed, in six days, His work of creation, and “rested the seventh day”; the other, that God had delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and had ordained the Sabbath as a sign and seal of a covenant made between Him and His people. Thus it expressed dedication to Him as their Creator and Redeemer.

On the fourteenth day (twice seven) of the first month, the Passover celebrated the emancipation from slavery and the birth of the nation which every Sabbath also called to mind. After the passing of seven weeks, Pentecost (Greek "fiftieth” day) marked the ingathering of the first ripe grain. The Feast of Trumpets was the glad announcement of the arrival of the sacred month, the seventh. On its tenth day, the Day of Atonement, the appointed ritual indicated the provision which had been made for the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of the people to the fellowship and worship of God.

The Feast of Tabernacles brought the sacred year to its climax. It was a harvest festival and celebrated the ingathering, not only of grain, but also the products of the vines and of the fruit trees. During the seven days of this festival the people lived in “tabernacles” or booths, mere temporary structures, intended to remind the worshippers of the wilderness experiences of their forefathers, and to fill them with gratitude for the goodness of God who had cared for the sojourners in their wanderings and had brought them into the rich Land of Promise.

Between these Hebrew Feasts and the Days of the Christian Year, it is easy to trace strong resemblances, yet at no point are these systems identical. The “Lord's Day” of the Christian Church surely stems from the Hebrew Sabbath, yet it is not the same. It is observed on another day of the week and with a different design. Like the Hebrew Sabbath, it is a time set apart for rest and worship, but it is the “first day'' of the week and not the “seventh''; and it does not commemorate the creation of the world, nor a political deliverance from bondage, but it celebrates the resurrection of Christ and His finished work of redemption.

So, too, Easter may be compared with the Feast of Pass- over. Both occur at the same time of the year. Each places an annual emphasis upon a weekly message; as the chief Feast of the year Passover celebrates the deliverance from Egypt which every Sabbath recalls; Easter is for the Christian the very “Queen of Seasons” as it commemorates the resurrection of Christ, that supreme event which also every Lord's Day brings to mind.

When, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost is observed by the Church, it is not the same as the Hebrew harvest festival; yet, in a real sense, it is a “feast of ingathering”; for on the first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brought into the company of believers three thousand souls and bound them together into one Body. Thus Pentecost is properly regarded as the Birthday of the Church. It became the custom of the early Christians to receive new converts into their fellowship on this annual festival. As these candidates were commonly dressed in white, this Day became known as White Sunday, or Whitsunday, and the season as Whitsuntide.

In further comparing the ancient Hebrew festivals with modern celebrations, the most obvious resemblance is between the Feast of Tabernacles and our American Thanksgiving Day. Both are harvest festivals, both are intended to express gratitude for the goodness of God; yet strictly speaking. Thanksgiving is a national and not a church holiday and is not included in the “Christian Year.”

That feature of the church calendar which is most truly unique, and has least association with the Hebrew Feasts, is the season which is known as Lent. It is designed as a period of repentance, self-denial, and spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter. Strictly conceived it does not include that supreme festival, but ends on the previous day. There is no great significance in the term itself, which means simply “spring”; yet it is understood to indicate the forty weekdays preceeding Easter. As it is a season originally observed by fasting, the Sundays of this period are not included, because Sundays are “feast days.”

The date of Easter, which determines the beginning of Lent, has been fixed by the Western Church as “the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, March 21st.”

Thus Easter may fall on any date from March 22 to April 25. Measuring forty weekdays earlier, brings the first day of Lent to a Wednesday, a day commonly known as "Ash Wednesday.” The title is due to an ancient custom of placing a mark of ashes on the foreheads of worshippers, as ashes were regarded as symbolic of sorrow and repentance. These ashes were secured by burning the branches which had been waved on Palm Sunday of the previous year.

As Ash Wednesday was to open the season of repentance and fasting, the previous day was seized upon as a last opportunity for feasting and merriment. It was turned into a carnival which took the name of “Mardi Gras” (a French term meaning Fat Tuesday).

The most important days of Lent are its last two weeks, the fifth known as “Passion Week” and the sixth as “Holy Week.” The latter is opened by Palm Sunday, which calls to mind our Lord's triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, and it continues by celebrating the events of the days of His life which followed. On Monday He drove from the Temple the godless traffickers. On Tuesday He defeated and disgraced His enemies who attempted to ensnare Him with crafty questions. Wednesday He spent in seclusion at Bethany. On Thursday the Master established His memorial Supper and bade farewell to His disciples. Friday was the dread day of crucifixion. On Saturday His body rested in the tomb. With this last day of Holy Week, Lent, strictly speaking, is ended; but no proper review of the Lenten season would be complete without reaching a climax by including the Sunday which follows and which, as “Easter,” celebrates the glorious resurrection of Christ.

The observance of Lent, and the other seasons of the Church Year, is by no means universal. Many devout Christians believe that no special day for worship has divine sanction, excepting the weekly Sabbath. Nor is the observance uniform; some churches prescribe an extended and intricate round of saints' days, of fasts and feasts, to which almost every day of the calendar is in some way related; others limit their festivals almost exclusively to Christmas and Easter.

Nor is the observance obligatory. Freedom of choice should be allowed. The words of Paul must be regarded: "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Therefore, as the apostle further intimates, one who observes the demands of a most exacting Church Year should not be regarded as bound by narrow tradition, nor should one who disregards such demands be considered irreverent or lacking in faith.

Some observance of Christian anniversaries will certainly be found helpful and quite in accordance with Scripture and human needs. By these seasons the memorable events in the life of Christ are brought to mind; otherwise they might be neglected; then, too, it is inspiring to know that the same great realities are being remembered at the same time by countless Christians in all parts of the world. Thus a Christian Year may result in bringing more closely together all the members of the “Body of Christ.”

There is at present a need for safeguarding all sacred seasons, even the Christian Sabbath. The “Lord's Day” is almost engulfed by a flood of special “Sundays,” such as “Children's Day,” “Mother's Day,” “Father's Day,” “Boy Scouts' Day,” and "Labor Day Sunday.” All have a worthy purpose but each sustains a very remote relation to the resurrection of Christ, which is the event to which the Christian Sabbath is supposed to point.

Then, too, all the days of the Christian Year are exposed to the peril of becoming commercialized. They often are valued, not for the memories of Christ, but for the possible increased sale of goods and as occasions for social festivities. The supreme test of all sacred seasons is this: How far do they help us to “remember Jesus Christ,” and incline us more faithfully to follow Him?

Nor should devotion to Christ be conditioned upon any anniversary or prescribed observances. By some effort, His presence and power can be called to mind at any time or place, until it may become a habit to think of Him.

An incident is related in the life of Major D. W. Whittle, a comrade of D. L. Moody, and the honored father of Mrs. Will Moody. The devout warrior lay dying, tortured by an agonizing disease. One day, as Robert E. Speer stood at his bedside, he asked this question: “Robert, what thought recently has been of most help to you?” The reply was this: “I have been thinking what a blessed thing it would be if the mind, whenever released from any immediate demand, turned naturally to center upon Jesus Christ.” “Oh, yes,” replied the Major, “I have often experienced that. In these long dreary nights I lie awake and review in memory the life of our Lord. I recall His words and His works and repeat to myself His promises, and this never fails to bring me patience and relief.”

Such a habit of mind may be difficult to cultivate; but a beginning can be made, not only in the gloom of midnight but in the gladness of the dawning, in hours of fierce temptation, and in all times of worship and of work. First of all, and most naturally, we may find inspiration and strength when, as at a Lenten season, we unite with our Christian friends in public services which celebrate the most memorable events in the life of our Lord.