“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Psalm 27:7-8, NRSV)
Ash Wednesday (March 2nd) marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. Lent includes the seven weeks leading up to Easter and traditionally has been a time of examination for those seeking to become church members.
In the early centuries of the Christian church, people would spend up to three years studying the teachings of Jesus; however, the last seven weeks before Easter were an intense time of demonstrating their commitment to living faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ. If they passed their exams, they were baptized at midnight so they could enjoy all of Easter day as a part of the church.
Not everyone was guaranteed membership, for if anyone’s faith were deemed ineffective, they would have to wait for another year as they worked on developing a stronger faith. For those already a part of the church, it was a time of reexamination of their spiritual vitality, often punctuated with intense prayer and fasting. Everyone’s desire was for their faith to flourish as they grew in the ever-deepening relationship with God.
Some of the people previously disciplined by church leaders and removed from membership could regain the trust of their leaders who readmitted them into the full membership of the church. It’s debatable whether this rigid system adequately conveyed the reality of God’s grace; however, that’s the way the church operated in the early centuries following Jesus’ resurrection.
Today, Lent is still a time of examination and renewal, but it’s not left to the church leaders to regulate our growth. We must take responsibility for our spiritual development by evaluating our progress in developing a robust faith and addressing any deficiencies we discover. The psalmist identifies this process with “seeking God’s face” and notes that the desire to do so comes from our hearts.
I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities we have ahead of us to prepare our hearts for Easter. You can start with our Ash Wednesday service at 6 pm on March 2nd at 6:00 pm, and then join us for the Lenten Study on “The Grace of Les Misérables,” beginning Wednesday, March 9th at 6:00 pm, following Fellowship Meals at 5:00 pm. Holy Week will have a week of special services with Maundy Thursday, April 14th at 6:00 pm commemorating the Last Supper, and Good Friday, April 15th at 7:00 pm with a Tenebrae Service (a Service of Darkness). Our Faces of Jesus Art Show will open on Good Friday and be open from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, and then again on Easter Sunday from 8:15 am to 1:00 pm. Of course, you won’t want to miss our Easter Celebration on April 17th as we celebrate our new life in Jesus Christ through his resurrection! Let’s grow together this Lent and prepare for whatever lies ahead that will bless and challenge us.