In Lent, as in Advent, the color purple again calls Christians to observe a season of preparation.
Through self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and meditation upon God's Word, the Lenten disciplines which we accept as our own on Ash Wednesday, the saved journey with their Savior for forty days in a spirit of self-denial toward the city of Jerusalem and the cross of Calvary.
"If any want to become my followers," Jesus says, "Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).
Our first Lenten banner is adorned with palm branches, common signs of conquest not only in Jerusalem, but everywhere in the Roman Empire which, together with enthusiastic shouts of "Hosanna", mistakenly greeted the Son of David as a conventional conquering king upon his arrival in the Holy City.
The cross in the center of the banner however, stands as a stark reminder of Jesus' true vocation: "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected...and be killed..." (Mark 8:31).
Our second banner for Lent also has Christianity's best known symbol as its center.
Yet surrounding this cross, and taking us directly to the heart of Lent's deep paradox, is a symbol of suffering rather than a sign of conquest.
Originally intended to mock a man who claimed to be a king, the plaited crown of thorns foreshadows the golden crown of triumph in the center of both banners which awaits the resurrected Christ and all who, in obedience to his example, take up their cross and follow him.
Take up thy cross and follow Christ
Nor think till death to lay it down.
For only those who bear the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.