Tag Archives: Lenten Reflections

If you don’t already observe Lent, consider giving traditions a try

Two and a half weeks ago, Lent began for a large portion of Christianity with Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches begin observing Lent on March 13). Some local Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal clergy brought “ashes to the people” in downtown Anchorage that day. I applaud this approach because it brings clergy to the people, instead of people expecting to have to go to clergy. This may be Christianity at its best.

“Sharing ashes on the street is an opportunity for Christians to practice very public theology, said participant Nico Romeijn-Stout, pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John United Methodist Church and one of those clergy. “Our practice was to take a moment with each person asking their name and how we can be in prayer with and for them. Even in a short moment a relationship was formed. What was striking for me was that the only people who received ashes from me were a couple of homeless men. One said that he hadn’t been ‘blessed’ in years. When we take the risk to do ministry with people where they are, we meet Christ in profound ways.”

Taking “ashes to the street” did not substitute for the Ash Wednesday services those clergy later held in their own churches.

Many Catholic clergy feel ashes should be applied in the church as a rite.

“We take ashes to the homebound, but the distribution of ashes is best done in the sacred assembly at Mass,” said St. Benedict’s Rev. Leo Walsh. “Catholics understand Lent, and all the associated rites, as a communal act of penance by the whole believing community. “It’s possible those attitudes may change over time, as I’m noticing an increasing numbers of news stories of Catholic and Episcopal clergy taking ashes to the street.

Regardless of how one receives their ashes, on the street, in bed, or at church, this rite is an awe-inspiring moment in which one can take stock and recognize we’re mortal and will return to dust.

During my personal preparation for Lent I came across an excellent guide prepared by the Society of St. Andrew, which sponsors a gleaning ministry for food rescue and feeding the hungry. The society’s 44-page downloadable PDF guide offers a wealth of Scripture, reflections, and prayers for Lent.

During Lent many churches host extra evening services or other activities.

First Congregational Church is conducting Tuesday evening Taizé-style services at 5:30 p.m. through March 22. The services will include music, chants, times of silence and readings from the Bible and other sources, but no sermons or discussion.

Many more churches’ Lent activities are offered on Wednesday evenings. Central Lutheran Church has soup suppers, study, and a service through March 16. All Saints Episcopal Church offers a soup supper at 6 p.m. followed by a lesson on spiritual gifts. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having Lenten soup suppers at 6 p.m. followed by a discussion on the intersection of Lenten themes and immigration. First United Methodist Church is serving Lenten suppers through March 30 at 6 p.m. with a Lenten study following. Anchorage Lutheran Church offers Lenten worship at 7 p.m. with supper at 6 p.m. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church provides a soup supper and fellowship at 5:45 p.m. followed by Holden Evening Prayer worship at 6:30 p.m. Joy Lutheran in Eagle River serves a soup supper at 6:15 p.m. followed by Lenten worship at 7 p.m. Much can be learned from partaking of these simple suppers, and the brief services connected with them. It’s a time for personal growth.

Instead of Lenten suppers and services, local Catholics, focus on the exercising what the Rev. Tom Lily calls the three Ts: “Time, talent, and treasure are common terms we use when talking about being good stewards of all God has entrusted to us. How do we generously give a proportionate amount of our time, talent and material resources back to glorify God through serving our neighbor?”

For example, Lent projects in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where Lily is the pastor, address all three T’s by supporting Catholic Social Services’ St. Francis Food Pantry. Each member is encouraged to participate in the Knights of Columbus’ “40 Cans 4 Lent” campaign, where 40 cans of food, one for each day of Lent, are donated. Members also donate funds for perishable dairy, fruits and vegetables. parish members also provide hands-on assistance at St. Francis house, as well as actively advocate support for the federal SNAP program through after-church letter-writing efforts.

Local pastor, the Rev. Rick Benjamin, raised in a Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition that didn’t observe Lent calls himself a non-Lenter but connects with the custom of fasting and prayer as performed as Lenten tradition.

“Many important decisions in our church’s history, and in my own life, came out of times of dedicated prayer and fasting,” he said. Rick’s local relationships made him aware of the liturgical calendar and Lent. He became intrigued, saying, “Lent was similar to fasting, sort of an extended semifast, and a time of self-denial and preparation for Resurrection Sunday.” His experience with Lent has been positive. He points out, “I have benefited from Lent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other ‘non-Lenters’ like me out there, I suggest you give Lent a try.”

My tradition was also a non-Lent observing one. Over the years, as I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve been exposed to this meaningful time of the church year dedicated to self-examination and rethinking one’s relationship with God. The music I hear in Lent-observing churches during this time becomes more thoughtful and intense. Like Benjamin, I encourage you to explore Lent, by attending any of the church activities I’ve noted above. I think you’ll be glad you went.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Lenten Reflections: Another Methodist Perspective

Lent is almost over, with March 30 marking the last day of Lent. The pastors who shared their thoughts about Lent were most generous with their time*. This Lenten Reflections post is from Pastor Carlos Rapanut of Chugiak United Methodist Church.

More than Just Chocolate

A common question that we hear a lot this time of the year is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This, of course, pertains to the spiritual discipline of fasting that’s usually associated with, but not exclusive to, Lent. So for 40 days, we give things up sacrificially, things we love like chocolate, coffee or soda. And after Easter, we call it good, and get on with life as usual.

But Lent is more than just giving up chocolate.

A reading of Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness usually opens the season of Lent, inviting us to go on our own spiritual wilderness journeys. It’s what Lent is all about- dealing with our inner demons so that we may come out of it as better people. Before Jesus began his ministry, he had to go through a time of purging. He had to give things up – the focus on personal needs and comforts; the attraction to worldly wealth and authority; and the temptation to show off his divine power. Jesus struggled with these temptations and learned how to give up the things that were hindrances to his life’s mission.

So Lent is a yearly wilderness journey where we confront our greatest temptations head-on and try to identify things in our own lives that we need to give up because they hinder us from fully following Jesus. These are issues like anger, bitterness, judgment, apathy and inaction, pride and control. Lent is serious soul work. It’s not a mere sentimental revisiting of Jesus’ suffering and death. It’s a season of preparing our selves to truly live.

Early in the history of Christianity, converts went through Lent as a season of purging and learning. During this time, they learned the teachings and ways of Christ and unlearned their old beliefs and lifestyles. It was a period of dying to their old selves and taking on new life in Christ. Then on Easter morning, they were baptized and welcomed into the fold. Baptism, the act of being plunged into the water and pulled back up, symbolized their dying to their old lives and rising again with Christ. They also discarded their old robes and were given new ones signifying their new life in Christ.

In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. During the season of Lent, we are to die more and more to ourselves so that Christ may live in us. We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live. So really, it’s more than just giving up chocolate.

P.S. I just concluded a Lenten sermon series entitled “More than Just Chocolate” where I used Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the cross to talk about the things God may be calling us to give up, not just for Lent, but forever. When you have time, I invite you to listen to them by clicking HERE .

*But unbelievably a number of other pastors who were asked to share their thoughts about Lent, declined, promised but did not submit, or were non-responsive because they were too busy. Sadly, I hear the “pastor’s too busy” words too often, even in emails and comments from the readers of this blog. It plays a role in the perplexing drop in church attendance/membership in the 18-29 year-old group. The Internet is full of amazing references to “too busy” pastors not meeting expressed needs and requests of parishioners, or simply just ignoring them. Alaska is one of the lowest church membership and attendance, and religiously interested areas in the U.S. Church Consultant Tom Rainer has discovered through surveys and interviews that the #1 thing people are looking for when they consider churches and pastors is ‘what they believe’. The pages of this blog are an ideal place to draw potential seekers to what various churches believe and have to offer. If pastors are too busy to share their thoughts with the church seekers, it’s an opportunity lost forever. ct

Lenten Reflection: By Non-Observing Pastor

I asked a couple of Anchorage pastors, who do not traditionally observe Lent, to share their thoughts about Lent. Some warm, insightful, and surprising words are being received from them.

Rick Benjamin, former Sr. Pastor at Abbott Loop Community Church, and currently Director of Organizational and Spiritual Wellness at Hope Community Resources is the first to share his thoughts.
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A Lenten Reflection from a “Non-Lenter”

Our church and my heritage are in the Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition of the Christian faith. We did not follow the liturgical calendar; we didn’t even have services on Good Friday. I remember hearing expressions like “I gave it up for Lent,” but I had no real understanding what it was all about.

One spiritual discipline that was similar to Lent was fasting and prayer. For many years, every Wednesday was our church’s day of fasting, and we began most New Year’s with three-day church-wide fasts. Many important decisions in our church’s history, and in my own life, came out of times of dedicated prayer and fasting.

Along the way God has blessed me with many new friends and colleagues in the broader body of Christ. Through these relationships I became aware and intrigued by the liturgical calendar and Lent in particular. I learned that Lent was based on the 40 days Jesus fasted in the Gospels. I learned that Lent was similar to fasting, sort of an extended semi-fast, and a time of self-denial and preparation for Resurrection Sunday.

So several years (but not every year) I have followed the discipline of Lent. I drink Diet Coke every day, so that was an obvious choice for self-denial. From Ash Wednesday till Easter, every time I thought of a Diet Coke, I prayed “Lord, I am glad to give this up for you,” and then go into a brief time of prayer with him. In the first few weeks especially, this would happen many times every day! My prayer life definitely increased during these seasons. Then after church on Easter, I bought a 52-ounce Diet Coke and rejoiced in the Lord! I learned that Lent is actually 47 days (not just 40), because it includes seven Sundays, which are not counted because every Sunday is a Resurrection Day.

I have benefited from Lent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other “non-lenters” like me out there, I suggest you give Lent a try. But you’ll have to wait till next year.

Thank you Pastor Rick for your insightful words. I’m beginning to see other non-Lent observing denominations or churches examine the benefits of observing Lent. Before Lent ends, we’ll hear from a few other community pastors, like Rick, who enjoy the discipline Lent offers believers.

Lenten Reflections: An Episcopal Perspective

As part of an ongoing series of Lenten Reflections, I asked Rector Jim Basinger, Pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church, to share his thoughts.

The liturgical year is all about the gospel. It is centered on the life, death, resurrection and soon return of the Lord Jesus. As there are different aspects of the gospel that can be explored, so in the liturgical seasons of the year, we spotlight one aspect of the gospel without neglecting the others.

The Lenten season is that time in the liturgical calendar when we focus our attention on the gospel response – we do so by “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

To be sure, our response to the gospel is not the gospel. The gospel is the offer of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, a response of trust and repentance is needed in order to enter into that new life and a continuing response of trust and repentance is needed to enjoy that new relationship which God has freely given to us through his Son and which he maintains through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Several aspects of our gospel response which the Book of Common Prayer mentions are self-examination, prayer and repentance. How do we go about examining ourselves? And why is repentance so important?

First, one way to focus on our gospel response is by reading and praying through the 10 Commandments. The commandments begin with the gospel (I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery) and call for a response. They were given to help a redeemed people live out their lives as God’s people. As J.I. Packer has put it: The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly. The 10 Commandments lay out for us what a godly life looks like.

Australian evangelist John Chapman recalls a conversation with a woman who claimed she lived “by keeping the 10 commandments.” Chappo said, “You mean – the ones that say ‘you shall have no other God before me?” She immediately responded, “Is that one of them?” Ignorance of the commandments is common place.

As we look at each of the commandments, we need to ask the Lord to help us examine our own lives, and as we do, we will see how far we have departed from the life which pleases the Lord and which makes us ‘truly human.’

Take the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” It’s easy to say, ‘well, no I haven’t.’ But let’s examine this commandment a little more carefully. Several questions emerge as examine ourselves. Do I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength? Is following God my absolute top priority? Do I give my worship exclusively to the true and living God? Am I zealous for God’s glory?

If not, (and who has loved God consistently in this way), then we are called to repentance (turning away from sin) and trust in Jesus Christ (accepting that in Christ we are forgiven). Repentance is a marvelous gift which means that we, by God’s grace, can turn back and that we can make progress in living as God’s people.

The Lenten season invites such self-examination. So, if we read carefully through Exodus 20.1-17 (the 10 Commandments), and begin a time of honest self-examination, we will find areas where we need to repent, and we also can experience the forgiving and liberating grace of our Lord.

Thank you Pastor Basinger for your insightful words of reflection about the significance of this Lenten period in the care and keeping of our spiritual centers.

Lenten Reflections: A Catholic Perspective

As part of an ongoing series of Lenten Reflections, I asked Fr. Leo Walsh, Pastor of St. Benedicts Parish, to share his thoughts. He kindly pointed me to his brief Ash Wednesday homily which can be heard, in its entirety, by clicking here .

Father Leo presents a clear, Catholic perspective on Lent in this homily which is delightfully introduced by his recounting the Irish joke below.

There was an Irishman in Dublin, which you’ll find a lot of Irishmen there I’m told. And he walked into the pub one evening, and he walked up to the bartender and he says, “I’ll have 3 Guinness” and the bartender says “sure”.

So the bartender pours 3 of them, and he takes about 7 minutes to pour Guinness, you know, properly, and then he notices the fellow does something particular and he goes over by himself to a table. He puts 2 on the other side of the table and 1 in front of himself and takes a sip of 1, and then the other, and he continues this pattern until all 3 are complete and then he goes up to the bartender again, and he says “I’ll have 3 more Guinness”.

And the bartender says, “Sure! I can pour them individually… that way they’ll be fresh.”

The guy says, “Oh no, you don’t understand”, he says. “ I’ve got a brother in America, and a brother in Australia. We used to come here when we were lads, and uh, and this is my way of remembering them.”

He says, “Ah, grand, you’ll have them.” So he gives them the 3. And this goes on for several months.

And finally one day, the fellow comes in, kind of a hang-dog look on his face, and he says, “I’ll have 2 Guinness.”

The guy looks at him with that sad face and says, “Ach, you’ll have them, and with my sympathies.”

He says, “What’ya mean?”

He says, “Well, I can only assume that one of your brothers has died.”

He says, “Oh no, that’s for me. I gave up Guinness for Lent”.

Thanks to you Father Leo for sharing your excellent Lenten thoughts with Church Visits readers.

Lenten Reflections: A Methodist Perspective

During Advent, I asked a number of Anchorage pastors to share an Advent reflection on “Advent as an Antidote to Consumerism”.

As we are now in the Season of Lent, I felt it appropriate to again ask a cross-section of local pastors to share some thoughts and reflections on Lent. Our next contributor is Pastor Peter Perry of St John UMC.

A Conversation With God in the Middle of Lent

A geography teacher gave an assignment near the end of the semester. The students were asked to list what they considered the seven wonders of the world. The top picks as we might guess, included Egypt’s Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and China’s Great Wall.

While tallying the votes, the teacher noticed that one girl had not turned in a paper. She approached the student and asked if she was having a problem with her list. The girl responded, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher replied, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.” Reluctantly, the girl stood up and began to read her paper. “I think the seven wonders of the world are to touch and to taste, to see and to hear, and then to run and to laugh and to love.” (from the book Sermon in Stone by Mel Ellis.)

When I came across that story in my file the other day, I realized that God was speaking to me through it. You see, I’ve been struggling with Lent this year. Lent caught me by surprise, beginning far too soon, with too much haste, amidst too much chaos. In the midst of the craziness of my life, God wants me to prepare my spirit by observing the holy days of Lent? Yeah, right.

I’m one of those people who finds it easy to be busy and hard to be quiet. Lent beckons, and I find myself needing a quiet place, a prayerful place, a place of retreat, a place of contemplation. So I pause and I try to listen… I end up having a conversation with God that goes something like this:

“Shhh…”, says God. “Rest. Be quiet. Be still. I’m here. And yes, Peter, the wonders of my world really are to touch and to taste, to see and to hear, and then to run and to laugh and to love.”

“God, thanks for including the running part.”

“You’re welcome, Peter. But please, don’t run too fast. I might not be able to keep up…”

“Thanks, God. Will I see you in church this week?”

“I haven’t missed a Sunday yet, have I?”

“I guess not, but I’ve got to admit that sometimes I get so busy I don’t notice you there.”

“So you are beginning to see the problem, eh? You don’t notice me a lot, Peter. I’m here. Always. Everywhere. During the commute. By the hospital bed. When you are walking the dog, playing the piano, writing the sermon, running the meeting, watching TV, making the bed, shoveling the snow, and answering email. I’m there.”

“Sorry, God, but the phone is ringing. I need to answer it.”

“I know…I’ll still be here when you get back…”

“Thanks, God. Good to talk to you. We should do it more often.”

“Yes, we should.”

Thank you for your thoughts Pastor Peter.

Lenten Reflections – A Lutheran Perspective

During Advent, I asked a number of Anchorage pastors to share an Advent reflection on “Advent as an Antidote to Consumerism”.

As we are now in the Season of Lent, I felt it appropriate to again ask a cross-section of local pastors to share some thoughts and reflections on Lent. The first contributor is Pastor Dan Bollerud, of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church.

Lent is the 40 days, minus Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to Easter. In scripture, it marks the time when the stories of Jesus transition from who Jesus is to Jesus setting his face, and beginning his journey, toward Jerusalem. The texts reflect the seriousness of this next phase of ’ ministry which will lead to the crucifixion.

In the early church it was a time of preparation where those interested in joining this “Jesus” movement who would dedicate their lives to prayer, education and self-discovery leading up to their baptism at Sunrise on Easter morning.

More recently the Lenten discipline has been to “give something up” for Lent. Although meant to heighten ones focus and meditation on who God has called us to be, all too often this practice has simply become a short term “New Year’s Resolution” combined with a modicum of self-righteous piety.

For me, Lent starts with the Ash Wednesday words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a stark reminder of our mortality and, lest we tend to get too full of ourselves, a reminder that salvation is a gift from God. The fact that the ashes used to make the cross on ones forehead as these words are spoken come from burning the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday, are a poignant reminder of how quickly our Hosanna’s can become cries of “Crucify” when we find our personal kingdoms threatened by the call to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Lent is a journey down out of our mountain tops of piety and down into the dusty streets where the needs of neighbor stare us in the face as we are called to live as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Lent is a time to look into the mirror of God and see the reality of who we are and then learn to celebrate the gift of salvation that comes into our lives.

Lent is also a time to focus on our call to be brothers and sisters in the family of God that stretches beyond the boundaries of denomination, religion and faith tradition, and embraces the whole family of God that in creation was called good. Lent is coming face to face with the salvation that comes from God as a gift, pure gift, for you and I and for all people, and asks the question, “Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?” Lent is that journey that helps us figure out what it is we are going to do in this vast and diverse family of God.