Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians all over the world will bow their heads today, and receive a smudged sign of the cross on their foreheads – will be reminded of their own mortality. That death comes to all. That death dwells in all of us. That this world is still, in many ways, captive to sin and darkness. And they will each decide to forgo some pleasure during this time: limiting consumption of meat or sweets; forgoing screen time; eschewing social media. Other Christians, all over the world, find these practices strange and stiff. They wonder what it’s all about. But they, too, although they will not walk through their day with ash marking their foreheads, will feel the pull, the heaviness of Lent in their limbs, in their days, as we begin the long march with Christ toward the cross.
Lent is a time of confession and fasting and waiting in darkness. But this year I want to acknowledge something else – it is also a time of fruiting. Even as we recognize our mortality, as we confess our sin, as we realize anew how difficult it is to control our desires, hope is born afresh in each of us. Because we know how this story ends. We know that our recognition of our mortality will become a celebration of our resurrection. We know that we have received help for our difficult desires, and that one day they will be conquered in full. We know that even as we confess our sin, we are forgiven.
So this year, our church is walking through the fruit of the Spirit during Lent (Galatians 5). We will confess our failure. But we will also embrace forgiveness, and recognize the fruit that Lent is bearing in each of us, and in us as a community.
I invite you to join us. Below is the reading for our first Sunday of Lent – I will post a new prayer every Wednesday. The sung portion is the chorus of Steve Merkel’s “Lord Have Mercy” – a version of which I have posted below. The bold print is to be read/sung by the congregation, and we will also be lighting a Lent candle each week (with the candles lined up in cruciform) as we receive forgiveness. I was helped, in writing these liturgies, by Gordon D. Fee’s excellent work Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Feel free to use these prayers in your your own congregation or in your personal devotions - if you do the latter, simply change the language to first person singular, and I would suggest praying the prayer morning and evening as a kind of bookend to each day.
What will you give up this Lent? And what will you harvest?
The Fruit of Lent, Week 1: PEACE
You are the God of Peace, and you desire your people to dwell in that peace.
Forgive us, Jesus, for we have caused divisions, knowingly and unknowingly, seeking our own good rather than the good of our community. Forgive us for any hurtful words we have spoken. Forgive us for our thoughtless gossip, and for the grudges we have held on to. Spirit, teach us to willingly forgive, to value relationship over being right, and to actively seek your peace with each other, and in all of our relationships.
Sung Response: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)
Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.