This Lent has felt very different to me. In some ways, I feel as though I’ve been less attentive to the fact it’s Lent of any Lent since I began attending an Anglican church back in 1995. While I decided to make a fast this Lent, it hasn’t been especially difficult. The keeping of my “sin ever before me” has been more of a stretch than a pain. I often feel closer to the Lord in Lent; that hasn’t happened this year.
What has happened instead is a through-line of two strands: turning and community.
Our sermon series this Lent at Light of Christ has been called “Coming Home.” It was inspired by the story of the Prodigal Son, but is really supported by all of the readings this Lent. It also knits in nicely with our recent launch of house groups–an effort to deepen faith through meditating on the week’s sermon and readings in community.
The “turning” is an obvious theme for Lent. When you think about the prodigal son, he reached a point of coming to the end of himself and decided “hey, even my Father’s hired hands have enough to eat. I’ll go home and ask for a job.” The Father’s joy at the Son’s return is so lavish that the son doesn’t even have to complete his sentence, or even the walk to the house before the Father has received him back! But the son must first make the decision to turn back home.
In last week’s story of the unfruitful fig tree, the Lord works the soil around our roots in an attempt to make us fruitful. Even though we do not have anything to do with this process, there is still a recognition that the fertilizer might not work–that our roots can somehow refuse to take in the new nutrients that have been introduced.
What’s clear from these stories is that no matter how small or slight it seems, we have a choice: we can reject the Lord, or we can turn–and even if we’re far from home, he is often right behind us.
My experience of community has been different this Lent. Because I help in our Holy Week planning, I’ve been in many meetings as well as my house group, and we are always talking about the last sermon, or how Lent is going for us, or what the Lord is doing in our lives. The common thread of our experience in church helps us to weave us together through our discussion and processing. I am growing closer to the people in my parish and also sense God’s presence in that knitting together. The community comes because of God, for the sake of Christ, and it seems to have a life of its own–as it should.
For example: Last night I was at my healing prayer discussion group. One of the members of our group had gotten his car stuck in the mud. As we left that evening, we all participated in helping this man get his car out of the mud. One woman sat at the wheel. Several of us pushed from the front. One of our group and a neighbor rolled down the back windows and pushed from there. This car was pretty thoroughly stuck! It took us a while to free the car from the mud. Those of us in front got completely splattered! One of the men helping fell in the mud while pushing and got lovely mud-shaped kneepads on his jeans. Somehow I got mud all the way up my front AND back. Once the car was free, we all cheered and congratulated each other, exchanging affirmations and encouragement.
As I drove home, I found myself singing “Celebrate” (yes, by Cool & the Gang). There was an elation from helping this friend out of the mud that I don’t think I would have experienced if I had been the sole person pushing. We all got muddy and sore muscles, but none of us overextended ourselves. Our little community was able to accomplish something that, had any of us tried it alone, would have left us frustrated and exhausted. Instead, it felt like what a team building exercise is supposed to feel like: each of us had a part and we worked together and celebrated together. A tighter community was woven.
Lord, thank you for this small example of the strength of your church when it is working together for the one who is lost or stuck. Help me to continue to be attentive to your where I need to turn and where I can join my brothers and sisters for your glory. Amen.