Grace and Peace — Lenten Services

Am I ready for this?

I’ve been sitting in the back pew for over two years now, and happy to do so.
Enjoying the leadership of others, fed by the word,
encouraged by the music,
grateful for the community.

After a few months of some disorientation,
wondering a bit about how I’d discover who I am
without the hard-earned role of pastor as my identity,
it’s been a rich two years,
filled with surprises and grace upon grace.

Who knew that reading and writing and meeting people
through the miracle that is the internet
could be so rich, so challenging?
Not I, that’s for sure.
It has been wondrous serendipity for me,
week after week.
Reading good words,
thoughtfully offered;
giving and receiving encouragement,
finding a prayer community.

To tell you the truth, it’s been a lot like pastoring.

So much so, that I have not missed the work like I feared I might.
So much so, that I’ve discovered that long stretches of
unscheduled silence and solitude,
by the sea or in the quiet of my bedroom,
can be gift-beyond-measure.
So much so, that working with directees in person,
and communicating with a wide range of ‘parishioners’ via the interwaves
has filled that pastor-piece very nicely indeed.

So it was with some trepidation that I assumed ‘the mantel’ this month.
On February 1st, I began a 3-month, very part-time stretch
as. . . Associate Pastor, once again.
And to start things off, I was invited to do something I love —
planning and leading a series of six Lenten services,
in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

We began with a simple soup supper on Ash Wednesday, one week ago tonight.
We had about 25 RSVP’s,
but enough soup and bread for the nearly 70 people who showed up.

 Then another 20 people joined them in the worship center
as we began to celebrate the beginning of Lent,
sharing communion and ashes.

There is a sweet seriousness about Lent,
about worship in Lent.
There is an intentional slowing,
a purposeful remembering,
a focussed attention.

The structure is simple,
both formal and informal,
with responsively read prayers,
songs in a minor key,
times of silence and confession.
But there is also coming forward to tear the bread and dip into the cup.
There is a time for public offering of brief prayer requests,
and a shared response to each one . . .
“Hear our prayer, O Lord.”
And there is the passing of the peace.

I love the combination of words written
and words offered,
words from the tradition and
words from the heart.
I like reaching out to one another,
with a hug or a handshake,
a ‘peace of the Lord be with you.’

I’ve done the brief homily for the first two of our six,
braiding thoughts from the four scripture passages
read aloud during the liturgy.
And tonight,
with a very much smaller group,
I also offered the bread and the cup.

Doing this again makes me want to take off my shoes;
I am standing on holy ground,
offering the gifts of God to the people of God,
saying the words to each person by name:
“The bread of heaven, the cup of salvation,
for you,  . . . “
“The body of Christ, the blood of Christ,
for you,  . . .” 

This is the heart of it all, isn’t it?
For you,
for me,
for all of us together?
All of us together. 

Whether that ‘all’ is 250 or 12,
this is our collective story,
our shared remembering.

This is who we are; this is why we’re here.

I am including the homily from tonight’s service below the links to Jennifer’s place and Emily’s and Ann’s.


Lent, Week One — Brief Homily on Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans
10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Four scripture passages, just like every week in the church year. But these four? They seem to have something important in common. And I think maybe it’s this: they all call us to remember important things.

The Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy? “Remember the story. . .” –the story of deliverance, of faithfulness. Tell it again and again and tell it with thanksgiving made visible in offerings and words and oil and song and respect.

The psalm? “Remember that refuge is found in God alone. . .” — when we name the name of Almighty God, we are secure in God’s presence, no matter what comes.

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome? “Remember that the word is near you. . .”
in your mouth and in your heart, and this living word is how we find rescue, how we are being saved, day by day.

And the gospel lesson — ah, yes, the gospel lesson. . . That one’s a little harder to pull out, but I think maybe it’s something like this: Remember to have your yeses so firmly in place that your noes will be almost automatic. . .”

And the through line all the way along, in each of the four, is this idea of ‘the word.’ The WORD — whether that word is the name of God, or faith in the resurrection, or offerings poured out in thanksgiving, or meeting up with the devil himself in the wilderness wasteland after 40 days of fasting and isolation — the Word is central.

Familiarity with The Word — learning it by heart as well as by head. Knowing the details of the story of deliverance, knowing them in our very marrow. Sitting with the story long enough to breathe it in and breathe it out. Absorbing the words as if they were living things, because that is exactly what they are, living and life-giving things.

Even when we’re at the end of our natural resources, even when we’re exhausted and hungry and thirsty, even when we’re wandering in the back of beyond, seeking the Face of God, carrying with us a blessing.

That pretty much describes where Jesus was in our gospel lesson tonight, right? From the high point of the dove descending in the River Jordan, to the immediate journey to the desert, to the 40 days of concentrated prayer and filling with the Spirit, Jesus is at his most vulnerable point when the devil shows up: weak, tired, hungry.

But ready.

Ready to meet the temptations thrust in his face, one by one, each invitation offered parried by a word from the Book.

We can only imagine what those 40 days were like for him – we are given no details other than it was a long season of fasting and solitude. What I imagine happening is something like this: gathering thoughts, solidifying goals, wrestling through the hard stuff, cementing in his mind and in his spirit who he was and why he came. Learning the YESES of kingdom work.

I think Jesus understood so clearly who he was and what he was about that saying ‘no’ was just about the most natural thing he could do when that temptor showed up. He knew the ‘yes,’ so he could offer the no. No to magic tricks. No to power plays. No to super stunts.

Yes to grace. Yes to worship of the True God. Yes to the upside down world that was his to usher in. YES to the story of God’s love for the world.

I wonder, what are the yeses in my life, in yours? Do we have them clearly in mind, part of our DNA? Yes to grace. Yes to God. Yes to the upside-down-ness of the gospel.

Because if we do, then saying no gets a whole lot simpler, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure none of us is tempted to jump off a pinnacle in order to prove that angels will save us.

And I’m guessing that we don’t hear dark whispers, enticing us to make stones into bread.

Ah, but I too often succumb to the siren call of things that do not truly nourish me or others. All kinds of things – from food that is lousy for me to words that I read or say that do not bring life. I sometimes wrestle with the need to feel important and needed, to have others validate me and offer me ‘authority and splendor.’ How about you?

What are the words that can help us with the particular wildernesses in which we find ourselves these days? Where are they found?

Right here, around this table. That’s a good place to start. This is the primary place of remembering, for us who follow in the Jesus way, isn’t it? Remembering the story, remembering the refuge, remembering the word, remembering what we so need to say ‘yes’ to.

Remembering the gift and grace of salvation, taking in the bread and the juice, letting it flood us with light and hope, with peace and grace. Amen.

 

 

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Comments

  1. I love imagining you in this place–leading worship, offering good words and love. I’m smiling and shaking my head, though, thinking what timing you have :). But it sounds like this has been a place of peace and not stress and for this I give thanks. Beautiful, Diana.

    • Uh. . . there has definitely been some stress!! But overall, it is good. A little busier than I wish, but good. Thanks for your encouragement, Laura.

  2. Thank you, Diana, for the ways you’ve ministered to so many of us on the Internet. I value your wisdom, your humor, your writing, your wit, your friendship … and this Jesus-sisterhood with you. And I can see that I’m not the only one who appreciates you so much. I see how you’re touching lives in many ways and many places — far away, and right close to home. May God bless you in this next season of ministering. Love, Jennifer

    • These words of yours? So kind, so encouraging. Thank you, dear friend. And I’ll offer them right back to YOU. Thanks for all you do and say to encourage, build up and love.

  3. Oh, Diana. This is holy ground here tonight, reading these words. Thank you. I hope you’ll post all your homilies. This was such a gift for me tonight.

    • Thank YOU, dear Annie, for your encouraging words! I’ll put up what I can. I’ve asked a few of the younger folks in our community to do the next couple of homilies/meditations, but I’ll do it again at the end of Lent.

  4. I was thinking that, too–about the timing of everything. 🙂

    “Remember to have your yeses so firmly in place that your no’s will be almost automatic. . .”

    I need to remember this.

  5. The words that you share with us…the Word…it nourishes us. So grateful that you get to share them with us. So grateful we get to soak them up.

  6. Oh, Diana, I’m so pleased at your new position, even if it’s for three months. Aren’t you just stretching up on tip-toes peeking and watching to see all God is going to do during these three months? I look forward to learning more as your time there progresses.

    Smiles,
    Linda

    • I will try to tip-toe around a little more, Linda. I’ve been so overwhelmingly exhausted by moving my mom that life as been a bit flat-footed just now. I’m working on it!! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. My church had the kids in with everyone else this past Sunday, so I didn’t really get to hear anything other than my 3yr-old, whom I was trying to keep quiet! So thank you for sharing your words with us, as well as your real life parishoners.
    I have found that in the last 6-12mths I’m becoming surer and clearer about what I want for my life and for my family, and that as a result, my ‘no’s’ have definitely become easier to give. I haven’t had as much agonising about what I should do, or who I might offend by saying no, so I definitely relate to what you say here.
    I’m still a little mystified by Lent, but am wandering about in it, thinking that at some point, no doubt, it will all gel together and make sense!

    • Hard as it is to have little ones in church, I actually think it’s a really good thing. We keep the little ones through the first 15 minutes every week and through the whole service every communion Sunday (we only serve communion on the 1st Sunday of the month – another thing I like about Lenten services: they allow for weekly sharing of the bread and cup). My youngest, when he was three, hated the church nursery and was much happier staying with us in church. We have bags for the kids now – with hand-outs pertinent to the text, a box of crayons and some blank paper. That helps! I’m glad you’re getting clearer on your yeses and noes – it helps life to make more sense. Do a little internet search about Lent, read some of the online devotionals that are available. That might help you find your way in this lovely, quiet season of the year.

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