February 17 marks the start of Lent. As we set our eyes towards the cross and the empty tomb, Lent is a good occasion to dedicate ourselves to intentional prayer, confession, repentance and renewal. Lent wasn’t a point of emphasis in my life growing up, so my first memories of it revolve around classmates in school who were “giving something up.” I remember a few friends talking about how miserable they were because they weren’t eating chocolate or drinking cokes, and I remember being pretty relieved that I didn’t have to do that! But now, what I would tell middle school Scott is that the goal of Lent is not to make ourselves miserable, but to reorient our hearts towards the joy of what is to come. Maybe giving something up is helpful for you in that. Alternatively, maybe the best way for you to do that is by taking something on.
Let me suggest one practice you might take up this Lent: in-person worship! A caveat – some of you remain worshipping at home as you await vaccination, or because of genuine concerns. We look forward to welcoming you in person when you are ready. That said, if you have simply grown accustomed to the comfort and convenience of worshipping at home, if you have been waiting until the inconveniences of Covid worship loosen up, or if you have just gotten out of the rhythm of worship altogether, Lent is a great opportunity to re-commit to the irreplaceable gift that is gathered worship. Only when we are shoulder-to-shoulder with other believers, singing, confessing and praying with them, are we being rooted in the fullness of the hope that we share in the resurrected Jesus – that we will be together, bodily, both with Jesus and with all the redeemed. Online worship has been a temporary necessity, but to make it a permanent practice is to obscure from our hearts a huge part of the resurrection hope that we have.
As your pastor, I feel myself toeing the line here. I long to see your face. I am protective of the Lord’s work among you and wary of the impact that comes from being away from gathered worship for nearly one year. And I want you to be safe and well. In the end, I hope that this Lenten season will at the very least spur each of us to discernment in regards to our participation in gathered worship. If that leads you to return in-person now, fantastic! If that leads you to set markers by which you will decide on your return to in-person worship (when the county gets to Phase 4, when I am vaccinated, etc…), great! But I invite all of us to use Lent in order to make sure that we are not coasting along on convenience but longing for what has been won for us. If I or the other pastors and elders can help you with that, please don’t be shy about reaching out to any of us!
A second way of entering proactively into Lent might be to make use of this guide we created for you that provides weekly reflections, prayers, assurances, and daily scripture readings from now until Easter. If you’re anything like me you might find that while we may have sincere intentions to make the most of a season like Lent, we can also benefit from having some sort of structured plan to help shape our practice of reflection, repentance, and renewal. This guide is simple and concise enough to be used as a family resource for all ages, and also can be used as a springboard for those wishing to plumb the depths of the truths introduced here.