Thursday, February 11, 2016

Begun, The Lenten Journey Has

(Most of the following is copied from my post from a couple of years ago.  There have been a few updates.)
Yes, it's true.  I'm not just a "liturgy nerd."  I'm also a "sci-fi nerd!"  So, obviously, the title to this post is a take off of Yoda's "Begun, the clone war has."  -  Ya' gotta' love Yoda! (And then I had to add a pic of Mace Windu, because he uses a purple lightsaber, and it is Lent . . .)


 In any case, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day (not counting Sundays) season of Lent. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The season is a preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.

Most churches that observe the season of lent will mark their worship space with somber colors such as purple (cf., Mace Windu's lightsaber!) or ash gray and rough-textured cloth as most appropriate symbols.

Ash Wednesday provides us with the opportunity to confront our own mortality and to confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the Ash Wednesday Service focuses on the themes of sin and death, but it does so within the context of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful and tangible way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.
During the season of Lent, many Christians engage in specific efforts at prayer and fasting and various forms of abstinence.  Sometimes these special efforts are viewed as a kind of legalism imposed by certain denominations.  (Some Roman Catholics view it this way, though that is not the intent of the Roman Catholic Church.)  Others see this as a way of simply "proving they can do it."  And there are those who see Lent as a time to jump-start their diets.  (Though the loss of weight may be a favorable side effect, that is not the purpose of fasting!)

There are others, however, who recognize that fasting and the various forms of abstinence are truly spiritual disciplines with the intent of opening us up to God's presence and grace in preparation for the great celebration of Easter. 

Coming from a branch of Methodism that has thoroughly embraced the Camp Meeting and Revivalism, I have always told our people that Lent is revival preparation!  -  When we would schedule a revival with an evangelist, we would do more than schedule the revival.  We would set aside specific times for prayer and fasting, seeking God's face for the revival services, the evangelist, the lost in our community, the Church, and ourselves.  "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24)  -  That, very much, is what happens during Lent.

Additionally, in the congregations where I have served, I have made it a practice of distributing to everyone a "World Methodist Call to Prayer and Fasting and to Faith-Sharing" bookmark on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday.  This book mark, produced by World Methodist Evangelism, calls our people to participate in the "Wesley fast."

The WME website says this about the bookmarks:

The 2001 World Methodist Conference in England called upon Methodists around the world to "follow the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting, focusing on spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign" by participating in the same weekly fast which John Wesley observed most of his life. Because of this commitment, Methodists in 130 countries go without solid food after their evening meal each Thursday until mid-afternoon each Friday.

This time of fasting is focused in prayer on the vision that those who follow Jesus in the company of the Wesleys would be empowered to become channels for the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.  Methodist churches and groups are encouraged to participate in the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting during Lent and/or during the period between Easter and Pentecost.

The Wesleyan-Anglican Society has taken up this fast as a part of our regular spiritual discipline, as well.

These ENGLISH PRAYER AND FASTING CARDS are usually available free of charge, in reasonable quantities, for congregations or groups wishing to participate in this worldwide commitment. The 2 3/4 x 8 1/2 inch laminated cards contain an explanation of the Prayer and Fasting Commitment plus special prayers for Thursday Evening, Friday Morning, Friday Noon, and Friday at the time of breaking the fast.

I would usually encourage all pastors in denominations that are members of the World Methodist Council to order these free bookmarks by going to the WME website, here.  However, WME is undergoing an overhaul.  The website is currently under construction.  I had to personal message the director and they were able to get me some un-laminated copies of the newly designed prayer and fasting cards.  -  With or without the cards, I would encourage the "Wesley Fast" for those who are a part of a World Methodist Council denominaton, or anyone in the Wesleyan/Methodist/Anglican traditions. 

In the United States, the denominations that hold membership in the World Methodist Council are:

African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,

Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church,

The United Methodist Church, and The Wesleyan Church.

Indeed, may we "see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation."  And may we see lives marvelously transformed by the great grace of God!  In the name of and for the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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