Monday, February 12, 2018

Preparing for Lent

Lent is soon upon us. This powerful, spiritual season is an opportunity to commit (or re-commit) to core Christian practices.

Lent is first of all the forty day journey beginning with Ash Wednesday (February 14th) and concluding with Holy Week and Easter (April 1st). During the forty days, we journey with Jesus through the final weeks of his public ministry, setting our faces with him towards Jerusalem and the cross.

Traditionally, Christians commit to three practices during the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Often, this includes using a daily devotional resource for prayer; fasting from certain foods or activities; and almsgiving, that is, giving to the poor.

This Lent at GSLC, we offer the following ways to engage the season. First, we host Wednesday evening services. Ash Wednesday is a special service focused on repentance and meditation on our mortality. The remaining Wednesdays of Lent, we host soup suppers followed by Evening Prayer. This year, we have a special theme (visit Integrating the Inward and Outward Journey) which will be the topic of the Evening Prayer services. There will also be an opportunity for a book discussion after evening prayer services each Wednesday.

Sundays during Lent, we focus on gospel texts appropriate the season, deepening our understanding of faith and Christ’s journey to the cross and resurrection. On Sunday evenings during Lent, we host weekly meals and bible study for newcomers to GSLC preparing for baptism or affirmation of baptism at the Easter Vigil. In between a potluck meal and bible study, we reflect on one portion of the catechism each week.

I especially invite all of us to find ways to fast and give during this season. One way we will model this at GSLC is to fast from coffee and treats on Sunday mornings. At the regular coffee station, in place of coffee and treats, we will have baskets featuring two hunger ministries: ELCA World Hunger, Springdale’s Samaritan Community Center, and the University of Arkansas Food Pantry. Each week, when you would have gotten coffee or eaten a cookie, instead give alms. This practice combines fasting with almsgiving, and it’s something you might also try in your own homes, perhaps donating to a hunger ministry what you otherwise would have spent on meat or dining out.
Finally, the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and leads to Holy Week. If you are unfamiliar with these special services, I very much encourage you to check them out this year. At Ash Wednesday, we receive a sign of the cross on our foreheads, reminding us of our mortality and one-ness with the dust of the earth. On Holy Week, we host evening services on Thursday in memory of Christ’s last supper, Friday around the cross on which he died, and Saturday with the new fire welcoming new members and celebrating the resurrection light. Then Sunday morning of Easter, we pull out all the stops with celebratory worship and a morning breakfast, a breaking of the fast.

For additional devotional resources and ideas during the Lenten season, I especially encourage praying the daily offices. Take Lent for what it is, an opportunity for introspection and renewal, joining Christ in his faithful journey.

Twentieth-century Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor said, “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What -people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

Faith is the cross. Lent is the season that centers us in this gospel truth.

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