Similarly, the annual observance of the Lenten discipline among Christians is a time to seek restoration for our lives. It is a time to reflect, take stock of our spiritual condition, and realign our lives. Our method for taking stock is the baptismal covenant as our reference point and making good use of the means of grace as our method. We enter the season through the Ash Wednesday call “in the name of the church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word” (The United Methodist Book of Worship. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, 322 from The Book of Common Prayer,1979, Public Domain). As we contemplate the method of Lent, even the spiritually mature among us become aware of how out of step we are with where we are called to be. We all have work to do.
There is much to mine from considering our Lenten journey this year within the frame of rehab, much to explore, much to learn. But the core of the learning in rehab, like the core of the learning in Lent, isn’t cognitive. It’s behavioral. In rehab, we learn how to live differently, to set a “new normal” for ourselves and our relationships after a period of time or perhaps a crisis has made it clear to us it is impossible to live as we had before. Likewise in Lent, we focus on helping those coming to faith in Christ for the first time, as well as those making their way back to Christ and the fellowship of the church after a period of absence or neglect, primarily in concrete, behavioral ways. Our goal for all who engage this period of time is that the way of Jesus becomes either the “new normal,” or, for those who have been consistent in the journey over time, is strengthened as our normal.
On each Sunday of this journey, the Scriptures provide the core guidance for the work of the week to come in our own lives and with others in midweek formation groups. We begin on Ash Wednesday by recognizing the limits placed on us by our mortality and the depths of our sinfulness, and by proclaiming God's gracious love which makes beautiful things out of dust. On Lent 1, we acknowledge we are entering a wilderness, uncharted and perhaps unchartable territory for us. On Lent 2, we become aware of the degree to which we need intervention and help beyond ourselves, and we identify how we can access it and start doing so. On Lent 3, we encounter the specifics of the kind of program that can keep us moving forward and learning this new normal, if we stick with it. On Lent 4, we address the sense of progress (and lack of progress) that comes with beginning to make some recovery. And on Lent 5, we remember with gratitude and hope the promise of healing and wholeness that awaits us as we continue to persevere, even in the face of challenging circumstances.
It is with that sense of gratitude and hope of a journey well-begun that we enter Holy Week. All of what has come before has prepared us to walk through this final leg of the journey with Christ and his church, through his suffering, execution, death, burial… and finally, after all of that, his resurrection.
- From the Worship team of the UMC General Board of Discipleship