February 14 is not only Valentine’s Day this year – it is also Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of the liturgical church season known as Lent. Lent is a time set aside in the church year to focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It lasts for 40 days ending on Palm Sunday. Originally only celebrated in the Catholic church, many protestant and evangelical denominations have adopted some form of observance of this very significant season in the life of the Christian church.
As Baptists, our focus typically is limited to Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. There is some negativity about how we “free church” grace-based folks perceive the penitent, self-denying ways in which our Catholic brothers and sisters take on Lent. It is about giving up something, giving away something, finding ways to identify with the pain and suffering Jesus was subjected to from the moment of his betrayal until he “gave up the ghost” and died. While we acknowledge the suffering and the death of Jesus, we are quick to get to Easter Sunday and celebrate a living, victorious Jesus, and well we should. Our churches are adorned with crosses, to be sure, but our crosses are always empty. Hallelujah!
But, what about the suffering, bleeding Jesus? What can we learn from other denominations who depict Jesus still on the cross? Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says the following: “Jesus hung in total solidarity with the pain of the world…After the cross, we know that God is not watching human pain, nor apparently stopping human pain, as much as God is found hanging with us alongside all human pain…God is found wherever the pain is.”
I want to challenge you this Lent season – starting with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 14, to give yourself to gazing daily at the crucified Christ. Do this through Scripture readings, through devotional books that can be easily obtained, through your own prayer and conversation with Jesus, through art, through nature, and through looking at and perhaps involving yourself in human suffering, for whatever you do for the least, you do for Jesus.
Put special services on your calendar now. There will be a morning retreat at Central on Saturday, March 17, from 9:30-12:30. In addition to a special worship service on March 25, Palm Sunday morning at 10:30am, a Refresh prayer service will be offered that evening at 5:00pm. There will be a Maundy Thursday service on Thursday, Mar. 29, at 7pm. On Good Friday we will open the sanctuary for a time of guided meditation between 11:00am and 2:00pm when you can come and go as you like. And, we wouldn’t be good Baptists if we didn’t pull out all the stops and celebrate together the resurrected Jesus on Easter Sunday, April 1 at 10:30am!
I am including a link to a free Lenten devotional entitled, “Come Back to Jesus.” It is edited and compiled by Bethel faculty member Chris Gehrz and his co-author, Mark Pattie. Chris and Mark co-wrote a new book, The Pietist Option, and Chris will be a guest teacher in August for our summer learning series at Central. Here is the link:
I pray that as you encounter Christ in new ways this season, that his overwhelming and unconditional love and sacrifice will utterly transform you from the inside out. Blessings on this amazing journey!
Pastor Terri Hansen