Entering the Lenten season is always a bit of a perplexing situation. We go into Lent knowing it as a time of increased devotion, fasting and generosity – but also understanding these practices of discipleship are traits we want to hold dear in our walk of faith at all times.
Throughout ministry I've been made aware of a variety of practices that accompany Lent. I've observed various forms of fasting - from meat, alcohol, candy or television; soup dinners and study sessions at churches; and special offerings to help those in need. I've seen churches and individuals make concerted efforts at growing in their faith. I've witnessed earnest prayer and actions toward restoring justice.
When we make this Lenten journey together, we not only commit to 40 days of doing the right thing – loving God, neighbor and self – we put in motion the disciplines that help us embrace the fullness of Easter throughout the year. As "Easter people" we are set free to live lives of discipleship. As a "church of the resurrection" we have hope for new life, not only for ourselves, but also for the world.
I recently returned from a trip visiting Global Ministries mission partners in India. It was my first trip to India and an eye-opening, horizon-expanding tour of work in which the church is engaged. This experience helps me to put this Lent into a new context, remembering that fasting is a luxury for those of us who live with plenty, increased prayer is required by those who don't already walk by faith alone and almsgiving is the privilege of those who lack nothing.
We enter Lent on Ash Wednesday, sealed with the sign of the cross using ashes that remind us of our human frailty and reliance upon Jesus Christ. We journey through Lent as a church that strives to be more fully present as the Body of Christ to those we encounter, in all we do and say. We maintain the hope in Easter and the power of the resurrection that continually calls us to envision and work toward the promised Realm of God.
I pray the weeks leading to Easter are ones of spiritual blessing and enrichment, personal generosity and self-examination, and corporate prayer and actions that lead us in ways of justice. May we be Easter people at all times, open to the possibility that God is going to break out among us in new and exciting ways. Amen.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and a member of its five-person Collegium of Officers.