Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent begins on February 14th, which happens to be Valentine’s Day. I think it’s appropriate that it begins on a day when we celebrate love, particularly intimate love, the very love that Christ invites us to share in with Him. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. When we are faithful to accept that invitation every day, we are filled with faith, hope, and love for one another.
Lent lasts 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday. It’s a season carved out of our lives for reflection and preparation as we remember Christ’s time in the wilderness, his ministry, and his death and resurrection.
The last two Sundays I’ve spoken about loneliness and spending time alone with God, being intentional about seeking spiritual solitude for the sake of drawing near to, and knowing, God. Jesus did that when he spent 40 days in the wilderness, a time that prepared him for his ministry of healing the broken of body and of heart, causing the lame to walk and the blind to see.
Some Christians observe Lent by giving something up, thus symbolizing a self-imposed simplicity, such as sacrificing a favorite food, or a bad habit like smoking, or eating sweets. It might be a good for us all to forego our addiction to technology during this time. But however we decide to observe Lent, the most important thing of all is to focus on Christ, and in what new way, or ways, is He calling us as individuals, and as a congregation, to work for the sake of the Kingdom of God, spreading the Gospel of Christ.
At our church, we may be more aware than most, of the presence and the power of being in the wilderness. We are located in the National Recreation Area, and we are engaged with hikers who spend months on the Appalachian Trail. The wilderness is a place of challenge, of confronting one’s self, of embracing an intense solitude, where one cannot hide from God or from one’s self.
Thomas Merton was a celebrated monk, speaker, and author. In his book, Thoughts on Solitude, he wrote something that has stuck with me, and I want to share it with you. He says the wilderness is a place of madness, and he adds, it’s the refuge of the devil—“the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence….” Lost excellence—we have all lost some excellence along the way, in one form or another.
May Lent be for all of us a time of considering what has been lost so that we might find the excellencies of knowing him:
Phil. 4: 8: “…I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ.” (World English Bible)
If we “gain” Christ, we will be filled with hope, faith and love. In other words, we will gain abundant and eternal life. No matter what wilderness we might find ourselves in, we can find Christ there, who came to set us free, and to restore us to whom we were created to be.
Let us go, unafraid to that place where we can be with Him, and Him alone.
In His Name,