Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lenten Worship: Why?

Ash_Wednesday_std_t_ntI grew up in a church tradition that did not recognize much of the Christian calendar with the exception of Christmas and Easter. However, I did spend my childhood in the Northeast where Catholicism dominated the religious landscape. Coming from the “free church” tradition, most of the church calendar seasons were explained away as “empty rituals”, void of any real spiritual vitality, and for many, they were. I have discovered in recent years, however, that this does not necessarily have to be the case. Incredible spiritual vitality can be found in many aspects of the liturgical church calendar. 

I grew up Baptist, went to Baptist theological schools, did my graduate education at a Pentecostal school, and now serve in a Methodist church (and I continue to have many friends in all of those “camps”). You may look at this and think that I have no real theological convictions, or you may conclude that I will just be very happy in Heaven! Either way, having broadened my theological understanding and my denominational exposure, I have come to appreciate much of what has traditionally been referred to as the “Christian Calendar”.  Here’s why:

It helps me realize that my generation is not the only one to name the name of Christ. In an age of 24-hour news cycles, instant information and the realization that just about everything I use in my life begins with “i” and is nearly disposable (iPhone, iPad, iMac, etc.), it is healthy to realize that I am not the only one who has attempted to live this Christian life but that I am connected to a much greater “we” that has lived, died and often been martyred for Christ—those whom I will spend eternity with! The Church Calendar is a great reminder that there have been generations of faithful Christians who have gone before me.

It helps me identify and bring myself in unity with others who name Christ. Unity is vitally important both in our local congregations but also even throughout Christendom. Often we speak of unity, but yet dismiss any notion that we could or should join with other Christ followers in celebrating or honoring a holiday or period of time together that would actually both unify us and help us set our attention on Christ. Observing the Church Calendar is one way for us to have a shared experience with others who also identify with the Gospel and is a fulfillment (even if only partially) of Christ’s prayer that we would be “one” (John 17:21-22).

It helps reinforce the story of Christ into my daily life. Throughout much of Christian history we must remember that most believers did not have ready access to the printed Scriptures and illiteracy was the norm for much of the world up until relatively recent times when compared to over 2,000 years of Christian history.  The Church Calendar was developed over time to help reinforce the story of Christ into the rhythms of everyday living. When looked at fully, we realize that the calendar outlines the Gospel into specified times throughout the year. It begins with anticipating His arrival in Advent, celebrating His birth at Christmas, His revealing during Epiphany, humbling ourselves in repentance as we join His fasting in the wilderness during Lent, reflecting on His love and sacrifice during Holy Week, remembering our sin and the atonement that He provided on the cross on Good Friday, celebrating the resurrection of life at Easter, marveling at His giving of the Spirit during Pentecost, and trusting that the presence and power of that same Spirit is with us still during the rest of the year as well (Ordinary Time). While none of these aspects become more or less true during other times of the year, each season provides us an opportunity to revel in and be reminded of the vast privilege and responsibility we have in also being invited into God’s story of redemption.

So this brings us to Lent. What are the opportunities for worship during this season? First of all, in the church that I serve, we have crafted a guided time of prayer and service that will help us prepare our hearts and minds for the ultimate celebration of Christ’s triumph at Easter (you can find this by “liking” our Facebook page www.facebook.com/mountpisgahumc). Many will also join in a time of fasting. This may range from a complete fast of food to simply giving up a comfort, convenience, or repenting and seeking forgiveness of even what might have become a “weight” or besetting sin (Heb. 12:1).  There is also something very powerful in substituting something that may be harmless, harmful or destructive for something that is hopeful, heart-felt or constructive and developing new habits that will help us to more faithfully live out Christ’s story in our daily lives. This does not negate being yielded to the constant work of the Spirit in our lives, but allows us to form better habits that help shape us while being more conscious of His working within us at increasingly greater and deeper ways as we grow in Him.

As is the case at any time, worship is ALWAYS a matter of the heart.  Just as anything else, any ritual can become trite or be done out of selfish motivation. However, there are seasons of the year that lend themselves well to denying ourselves and forming new habits that can help form us more into the image of Christ. I have found that Lent can be such a season and I look forward to seeing Christ formed in me and others as we make a more concerted effort to focus ourselves on Him.

Do you plan to observe Lent this year?  Is it something you will do on your own or will you be joining a local community of faith in a shared experience?  What ways could churches from both the “free church” and liturgical traditions better enable their people to have more meaningful shared experiences outside of gathered worship? Click “Read More” to leave your comments below.

For more information about the church calendar or the Lenten season:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ash-wednesday

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-lent-and-why-does-it-last-forty-days

The United Methodist Book of Worship (link to Abingdon Press)

Discover the Mystery of Faith by Glenn Packiam (link to Amazon.com)

Worship: Old and New by Robert Webber (link to Amazon.com)

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