Journeying Inward and Out
Creating a Holy Lent
By Kathy Noble
Two months after the evergreen and the candles of the Advent wreath had been put away, the Rev. Preston Price, a newly retired member of the California-Pacific Conference, would again use candles as a focal point for the worship liturgy.
In contrast to lighting candles during Advent in anticipation of Christ's birth, darkness grows as a candle is extinguished on each of the six Sundays of Lent. Price's candle-extinguishing liturgy is among a variety of Lenten worship and devotional resources found at www.gbod.org, the Web site of the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.
Price writes the growing darkness prepares worshippers "for the approaching darkness of (Jesus Christ's) betrayal and death" on Good Friday.
The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship for the board of discipleship, and the Rev. Daniel Benedict, former director, urge using Ash Wednesday as the day to begin the journey toward the somber remembrance of the events of Holy Week and the joyous celebration of Christ's resurrection beginning on Easter Sunday.
The placing of a cross of ashes on the forehead or hand is a powerful part of Ash Wednesday services in many United Methodist congregations. Some will burn branches used on the previous Palm Sunday to make the ashes for the next Ash Wednesday service. (Note: If burning the leaves, do so out-of-doors.)
The service can include a commitment to personal and social disciplines "for conversion from sin and death to love and life in Jesus Christ," says Benedict. Some congregations will form small groups or provide other settings in which people are encouraged to be accountable for their commitment. Benedict's article at www.gbod.org/worship, "Connecting Worship and Daily Living in Lent," suggests 16 inward disciplines, including:
- Spending time in solitude each day;
- -Reading twice through the book of Mark (the lectionary gospel for 2009); and
- Forgiving someone who has hurt you.
- His outward disciplines list includes:
- Visiting a shut-in neighbor or church member weekly;
- Praying for help in resisting racial prejudice and courage in opposing it;
- Giving blood and recalling the cross.
Mary Jane Pierce Norton, associate general secretary for discipleship ministries, suggests Lent is a wonderful time to start weekly family devotions. Her article "Family Study for Lent" includes ideas for weekly Lenten devotions incorporating scripture reading, discussion, prayer and activity. The first week focuses on "The Gift of the Widow" (Mark 12:41-44) and encourages the family to consider how they can give. Several of the activities 2 such as making and eating pretzels as part of a lesson on prayer 9 could be adapted for Sunday school or other times children gather.
While Lenten practices frequently encourage self-examination and repentance, Burton-Edwards and Benedict urge remembering that Sundays are not counted in the 40-day season. "Lenten Sundays are &little Easters,' as are all Lord's Days." They encourage using the lectionary readings for each Sunday to guide the tone and the selection of hymns and prayers for each week's worship service. The weekly lectionary readings for United Methodists can be found in The Book of Worship, at www.gbod.org/worship and in the Official United Methodist Program Calendar.
Throughout the season involve people in the church's Lenten activities, says the Rev. Kwasi Kena, director of evangelism ministry. They can decorate the worship space. Invite those who enjoy drama or are liturgical dancers to share their talents. Invite others to design handmade or computer-generated invitations to Lenten activities to hand to people in the community.
Finally, Benedict and Burton-Edwards write, "Climax the (Lenten) journey with full-blown Holy Week and Easter worship."
--The Rev. Kathy Noble, Editor, Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine