We have again entered the season of Lent. The word Lent means spring, and according to the blessed groundhog, we might be seeing signs of spring early this Lent. Lent developed as a time of fasting and preparation and teaching especially for those who would be baptized at the Easter Vigil, the night before Easter. Lent was really designed for growth for new Christians and older Christians alike, all walking the journey with Jesus to the cross, to the empty tomb. That’s our growth goal again this year.
Dr. Mark Allen Powell, a prominent New Testament scholar, always stops and looks with wonder to the sky on cloudy days. He does this because he believes the scriptures, which claim Jesus is coming back. Ever since he told me that, I have paused on cloudy days to look to the heavens with a smile – just in case this is the day. I have a lot more opportunities in Ohio than I did in Texas!
I love celebrating Advent and Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, where the days are getting shorter, the night’s longer, and you really get some use from your Christmas lights. (In southern Australia it is only getting dark after 9pm, and quite challenging to take younger children out to see the lights because they will get to bed quite late.) I love the Advent wreath – and lighting another candle each week. I love the candlelight filling our sanctuary on Christmas Eve. I love that we get to celebrate Christmas for another 12 days up until Epiphany, and that too is a wonderful festival – of light coming to the whole world.
Just before Christmas in 1985 Mary and I visited the DDR – the former East Germany. We went there to visit Luther sites. We were hosted by a wonderful German family who have become lifelong friends. In 1985 they of course had no idea that just 4 years later would see the tearing down of the wall and the reunification of Germany.
I have recently returned from a wonderful family trip to Central Europe. We all learned a lot while we were there. Some of the places were hard to visit, like Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Southern Poland. I felt a deep anger about the ‘othering’ of people that was enacted there. It was a hot windy dusty miserable day when we visited. The dust was swirling about by the wall where thousands had been shot to death. It was stiflingly hot in the gas chamber and crematorium. I was overwhelmed that so many lives were taken there, because they were deemed to be a threat, and different from the ‘right’ people.
For me, Holy Week is the deepest week of the year for my faith. I love to hear and take part in the Palm Sunday story, of Jesus entering Jerusalem with cheers of Hosanna. You will be invited to be in a palm procession in our 9am and 11:15 worship services again this year. And then we will hear the deep words of Philippians 2 about Jesus going to the lowest point, his death on the cross, and being exalted to the highest heavens. We follow that journey especially with the Three Great Days which begin when Lent ends – on Maundy Thursday (April 18th)
We are soon approaching Lent. Ash Wednesday is on March 6. We have two worship times at Ascension, at 12 noon and 7.30pm. This year I am going to slightly modify the words that go with the imposition of ashes – Remember that you are earth, and to earth you shall return. The season of Lent helps us to be/become better humans. It gets to the foundation of our creation and our faith. The season with its practices invites us to return to what is most important. (In Hebrew – the word ‘repentance’ has the sense of turning back, or being turned back, to God)
The Epiphany season started on January 6th and continues all the way to March 3. (Lent and Easter are later this year.) This gives us more readings from Luke’s Gospel – including Jesus being rejected in his home town, his call to go and fish for people, and what is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, and some hard hitting sayings that are similar to their longer form in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. In Epiphany (the word means ‘revealing’) light is shone on Jesus to reveal more about him, and light shines from him into our lives, and our church, and the world.
Advent is an important time of preparation – not for Christmas festivities – but for the birth of God incarnate. As part of that, we are going to take a look at the ancestresses of Jesus, who are named in the first chapter of Matthew (Matthew’s begats). The five listed, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary have important stories that help us understand God’s work in the world before actually becoming human. We don’t usually hear much about them, because they don’t all appear in the lectionary. I think one big reason for this is their stories are a bit Rrated.