A few years ago I read a book of Mother Theresa’s private writings called: Come Be My Light. I was curious to know more about her and her work in Calcutta, India. She becomes a nun and then feels called to do more in India. She feels called to serve the poorest of the poor in the slums. She starts the Missionaries of Charity, which still exists today.
This particular book is famous because it reveals the true inner life of Mother Theresa. She didn’t feel the presence of God for years. She felt distant and far away from God. She felt this way as she ministered to the poor, the sick and the dying. People would visit her from all over the world and didn’t know that she felt emptiness inside. This book of her letters and private writings revealed all of this.
I remember reading this book with fascination and interest. I got to the part where Mother Theresa offers God everything. She and her spiritual adviser agree to this vow: That she will not refuse God anything. For a regular person, this is too lofty of a vow and unattainable. It is full of false pride. But Mother Theresa’s spiritual adviser knew her well and knew her heart. He knew that her level of commitment was much higher than the average faithful person. He allowed it.
I remember thinking, oh no-don’t pray that. That’s the wrong prayer to pray. Doesn’t she know what happens to Jesus? Doesn’t she know how he dies? She’s just setting herself up to suffer internally. She wants to be so close to God that she experiences his life as closely as possible. This is only going to end in pain and suffering. I could see it a mile away.
No wonder she suffered. No wonder she felt distant from God. She was experiencing Jesus’ pain in a spiritual way. She was experiencing all the pain and cruelty of Good Friday all the time. And she served the poorest of the poor while she felt distant from God.
This week is the week that we all experience and remember the pain of Maunday Thursday when Judas betrays Jesus. We remember the trials and questionings of Jesus in the middle of the night. We remember the beatings, the floggings, and the cruel death of Jesus on Good Friday. We remember the grief, the sense of loss and confusion of Holy Saturday. This is the week that we get close enough to Jesus to experience some of his pain. This is the week that we get to face the ugliness of humanity and our inner selves.
Walk slowly this week. Take time to remember the events. Take time to also remember God’s great grace and mercy and that God never gives up on us. Even at our worst.
Lent is almost over. It’s hard to believe that Palm Sunday is almost here, Holy Week is almost upon us and the great celebration of Easter is right around the corner. Yet, here we are. We wait for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on the donkey and face his last week on earth.
Let’s remember where we’ve been, shall we? In Advent, our journey and story of Jesus began. We were preparing for the birth of Jesus-Emmanuel-God with us. We sang the old Christmas Carols with gusto. We lit the Advent wreath Sunday after Sunday preparing our hearts for the arrival of God’s Son. We heard the old stories about Mary carrying God into the world inside her body, about the wise men coming from the east meeting a king they’ve never heard of, and we heard about the lowly shepherds coming to visit Jesus. We also lit up the Chrismon tree and remembered that Jesus is the light of the world.
On Christmas morning our preparation paid off and we celebrated his birth with great joy and hope. Christmas fell on a Sunday this year and it was extra special to be with our church family that morning.
Then Jesus grows up after Christmas. After Christmas we read about his baptism. And in Lent we’ve heard the familiar stories about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, his conversation with the woman at the well, his healing the blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead. And all of this will continue this Sunday as Jesus takes his last journey into Jerusalem and faces the events of Holy Week.
The church year is designed to follow the life of Jesus. We learn about his birth during Advent and Christmas. We hear about his baptism during Epiphany, and we see all different sides of him during Lent and Easter. As the church year goes on, we see more and more sides of Jesus to help us understand him a bit more. It’s designed that way.
After Easter Sunday, we’ll be in the Easter season for a month or so. We’ll look at Jesus’ appearances after Easter and how the early church got started. We’ll celebrate the resurrection not just one day, but for weeks. And then we’ll celebrate Pentecost and remember the birth of the church…and then it goes on from there.
What things have you noticed about Jesus this Lenten season? Has Jesus been revealed to you in a different way? How will it affect your experience on Easter Sunday?
Last week Jimmy Powell, Henry Page, Jim Starr and I showed up to help out at the food bank at Trinity UMC. We were joined by folks from Trinity. We unpacked the trucks, packed boxes, swapped stories, and had a great time. We packed about forty boxes to hand out to needy families in our area. We do this every so often when it is our turn.
What always strikes me when we get together with folks from Trinity is how close the two churches have become. Jimmy Powell is related to half of the church, but the rest of us still feel like family. We work together at the food bank, but it’s more than that. Some of you have been helping Cathy Woodson with their Christian Kids Club at Red Hill School. We are going to worship with them during Lent and Easter. We’ll have the Easter Sunrise Service at Trinity and Zion Baptist will join us. We even share a cemetery with them and it’s been a happy arrangement.
Sometimes Baptists get a bad name because we don’t want to work with other denominations. Baptists are known to be a bit territorial. But not Mooreland. I’ve never seen that with Mooreland and I know it has a lot to do with Trinity UMC. It even goes beyond just the two churches, because Mooreland is very active in the North Garden Area Community Church group. We work with anyone and everyone. It’s who we are.
We are all part of the Church here on earth. It doesn’t matter what hymns we sing or don’t sing, how we take communion, how we baptize-we’re all in this together. Mooreland understands this and celebrates it. I’m glad we do.
As we walk through Lent together, our blog posts will help us reflect on the season. Some of the posts will be taken from other sources and they will be cited below. This week’s post is taken from Eggs and Ashes-a worship resource book. You are invited to ruminate on the words below.
Not in the sky
Not in the fingers of frost
or a leaf
or a sunbeam
Not in all their beauty
and beauty it surely is
can I ever prove you, God.
In a friend’s smile
a child’s laugh
an old man’s tears
I get nearer
but never near enough.
can I ever know-
ever be sure?
I think not.
Prayers, ideas, words,
these help to draw you closer;
it isn’t with the unreal
that I talk in the darkness
and walk in the light.
I jumped-and landed
in your country
your way of seeing
a long time back;
and despite the mind’s questioning
I am still here
and yet still searching.
(Taken from Eggs and Ashes: Practical and Liturgical resources for Lent and Holy Week, by Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill, Wild Goose Publications, 2004)
It’s almost that time of year. We are quickly making our way into Spring and Easter will be here before you know it. Easter will be on Sunday, April 16th this year, in case you needed to check your calendar. The Christian tradition of Lent begins before that. Lent officially begins on Wednesday, March 1st which is also known as Ash Wednesday. Lent goes all the way to Palm Sunday, which will be on Sunday, April 9th.
Historically, Lent hasn’t been a big deal among Baptists. We might do something for Palm Sunday, but that’s about it. Lately, there has been some movement back towards the season of Lent because of the important role it plays. Lent is a time to prepare yourself for Easter. It’s a time of examination and reflection. It’s a time to let God search your soul and see what is really there.
Lent is an opportunity and a good reason to draw near to God. Some people like to read one of the four gospels during Lent, as a refresher. Some people set goals during Lent for their prayer lives or for their health. Lent is also a time when people try to kick a bad habit or give up something.
I will be preaching Lenten Passages on Sundays that will help us all focus on the season and prepare us for Easter. We’ll look at Jesus and the temptation scene in Matthew. We’ll hear the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the healing of the blind man in John. On April 5th we’ll read the story of Lazarus’ resurrection.
On Palm Sunday we will have a special service. During the first half of the service we will wave palm branches, read the triumphal entry story and sing about it. During the second half of the service we will read the crucifixion scene from Matthew. The service will end on a somber note, as we hear about the death of Jesus.
After Palm Sunday, comes Holy Week. And then on Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection. And hopefully, after having gone through Lent, we will celebrate the resurrection in a profound way.
One of the things that makes Mooreland stand out to me is the love shared between the church members. Some of the members have known each other for fifty years and went on double dates in their twenties. Other members are newer to the congregation and are loved as if they’ve been here for fifty years. When we get together it feels right. It feels like a family reunion. It’s as if we are all cousins and we get to catch up with each other on Sundays.
Last week we got together for our Midweek Meal. We celebrated Valentine’s Day early. Jim and Mary Ann decorated the Fellowship Hall and played hosts. We ate chocolate and played hearts. (Shh! Don’t tell the people in the cemetery that we played cards in the fellowship hall. They might roll over in their graves.) We laughed. We shared stories. It was like being part of a family.
Last week we also got together for Supper Church. Dietra and Georgia made the chili. Jim made the corn bread. And Jimmy makes the best pound cake around. We were all impressed with his baking skills. But before filling our tummies with food, we reflected on where we have seen God. Each person was given a large piece of colored paper and asked to draw pictures of where they encounter God. We had pictures of mountains, the beach, the forest, and the farm. We made a collage for the sanctuary for worship.
Each one of us sees God in different places. Each one of us reflects God’s love wherever we go. No wonder it feels like a family reunion whenever we get together.
As Baptists, Bible Study is high on our radar. We love to get together with our Bibles, discuss the passage, and try to figure out what it means for our everyday lives. This is what we do every week in Sunday School. Here at Mooreland we have Sunday School classes for all ages. We have three adult classes and a children’s class. Space can be made for a youth class, if there’s interest.
Two of our Adult Sunday School classes are studying Paul’s letters to the Philippians. One of our Adult Sunday School classes is finishing up a thirteen week study of John’s Gospel. Our children’s class meets upstairs and they do all kinds of things to learn the story. They act things out, they read together and even play a game or two.
Sunday School is one way we tend to our faith. It’s one way we learn and grow. It’s also a time to build friendships and community in the church. These small classes become places where folks support each other and laugh together. They become like small families.
This time of year is a great time to dig in and learn more about our faith. There aren’t major holidays to prepare for, the weather is unpredictable, and life tends to be slower. Soon, Lent will begin and we will travel through it preparing our hearts for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But before we get there, let us tend the garden of our faith. Let us hear what God is saying to us.