The establishing of God's Kingdom in the world is not contingent upon our programs, methods, Tweets or nifty PowerPoint presentations.—
Elyse Fitzpatrick (@ElyseFitz) May 30, 2012
God brings His Kingdom in through the prayer He creates in the hearts of His people. We fall on our faces in utter dependence and he moves.—
Elyse Fitzpatrick (@ElyseFitz) May 30, 2012
For me, Lent is a sigh of relief.
One would think with the freedom we have in Christ to attend to the means of grace each Lord’s day, I wouldn’t need permission to be reflective, private, and worshipful.
But I do.
Deep within my heart I find the same, familiar trappings beginning to come together. A distancing. A cooling. A familiarity. Something all too mechanical about the whole process of being “Christian.”
I knew something was happening years ago when Christmas came, and went, and nothing felt any different about it. When I was a child, my parents had to make a “countdown to Christmas” calendar so that I could at least have a visual countdown of the number of days remaining until that glorious morning arrived.
In church work, my public rhythm is dictated by the stated gatherings that are most widely celebrated amongst protestants. Preparation for Christmas (logistical, that is) begins in August. Preparation for Easter began January 1. If I am not careful, logistical preparation supplants the private tilling of my own heart to receive before I give.
I need preparation. It is the only way that I can hope to minister out of the wellspring of the whole self, versus the divided self. In order for there to be vitality in my public leadership, there must also be quiet submission and space to listen in my private worship.
Lent is an opportunity for examination. It is permission granted to explore the depths of the parody which I have created. Parody is an imitation or a version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty… and this, so often, is where I find myself living. I find myself living in the ease and comfort of imitation. The travesty of this is that the imitation itself beguiles as a suitable substitute for the real thing.
But I can’t see how far short the parody falls, because I have forgotten. Forgotten the original goodness which I was intended for. Forgotten the original wonder I was made for. Forgotten the noble identity that was forged in me when I was made in the image of my creator God, and declared to be very good.
Instead, I take the parody and settle for “good enough.”
As a friend and colleague once said, “Lent seeks to frustrate the false self.” It is an exercise in pulling back the veil of the ghetto my heart has created, and expose it for all of the rank counterfeit that it is; how much it falls short of the real thing. That it is a travesty.
But Lent doesn’t leave me there. Along the journey there are reality checks. Lent was a 40 day fast, with breaks on Sunday to remind us that we are not living in a time absent the cross; the dead tree and empty tomb assures us that there is a lifeline to self-examination. The way of the lenten path is the way of the cross, an opportunity to be formed by the tree of death that gave way to the tree of life.
Lent declares amnesty. A time to come clean. A time to expose all of the ways which I have given the false self priority instead of the redeemed self. A time to recover the full weight of my fallen humanity, so that I may receive with a glad and full heart the good news of the gospel. We are prone to deny the bad news and minimize the good news.
The feast of Eastertide awaits. The joyful journey of Lent prepares the palate to savor the sweetness of resurrection power afresh and anew. Join me, won’t you?
The preaching of the Gospel and the service of men’s need are equally authentic and essential parts of the church’s responsibility. But neither is a substitute for the other. No amount of service, however expert and however generous, is a substitute for the explicit testimony to Jesus Christ. No human deed can of itself take the place of the one deed by which the world is redeemed and to which we must direct men’s eyes. There is no equivalent to the Name of Jesus. But equally, the preaching of that Name will be empty, if he who speaks it is not willing to deal honestly and realistically with the issues that his hearers have to face. An escapist preaching which refuses this involvement is no true witness to the Kingdom. We are not to be reporters only, but also signs of the Resurrection, and that means that we are living out in our flesh the experience of victory over the powers of evil… The true relation between the word and the deed is that both must be visibly rooted in the same reality; namely in that new community which is created and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but mealtime was never dull growing up.
Well, that’s mostly accurate.
Now, truth be told, I had all sorts of experiences around the family meal table. Of course there were the requisite good days and bad days, good moods and bad moods, good food and (sorry Mom) not so good food.
But between my sister and I, there was always someone saying something.
And it was around the family mealtime that I learned several things. I learned proper manners for how to eat food; I learned to serve others before being served. I learned to defer to others when they were talking. I learned by expectation how to pattern my day.
The dinnertime was always the same. We ate at the same time, sitting at the same place, with generally the same people, whether we wanted to or not. That was it. We were a family.
I look back on those days and realize all around me that there is immense pressure to keep up the practice of a family meal. Just the other night my wife and I were talking and she asked me my opinion as to whether or not childhood obesity constituted as child abuse. Certainly if the child is young enough, whatever they are eating, however they are (or are not) being physically active is no doubt a reflection of what they see from the parents.
It is the parents responsibility to set the tone in the house for food and how it is to be treated.
I got to thinking about the obesity part. It made me thankful that meals were always set before us in a reasonable and healthy way growing up. I knew when dinner would be, and I knew where it would be. And I knew who I would be eating with.
And I felt satisfied.
It’s interesting the way we approach the Lord’s table, though. We don’t view it necessarily as a family meal. We view it as a private and personal time to be meditative and reflective and connect with Jesus. And to be sure that although those components of meditation and reflection are there, there must be something else going on as well. It is, after all, the Eucharist. It is the meal of grace and thanksgiving.
In John Collins’ piece “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read the Bible” in the Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004), he writes:
“If we follow this point through, we find guidance concerning the proper tone for celebrating the Eucharist: it is to be primarily a joyful occasion. There is, to be sure, a place for penitence and sorrow in it, since it is human sin that requires the blood to be shed; but this is only the preliminary, and not the focus. The proper focus, according to passages like Deut 12:7 and 14:26, is to eat before the Lord, and there to rejoice with others—and this should set the tone in the Christian celebration.”
How do we teach this to our congregations today? I think it starts by re-envisioning the meal as a family feast. We aren’t staring at our laps like a small child, playing with our silverware and our napkins, just trying to eat our food and be excused from the table. It is a meal of thanksgiving, where we are eating in the presence of the Lord and rejoicing with the others that are nearby. And in so, acting a bit like the family God is making us to be.
Next, we must always remember that the house of worship that we come to is not a lecture hall. It is not a place where we fill our heads with ideas. No, the meetinghouse of God’s people is a banquet hall, and Jesus himself meets us in the feast to feed us with every spiritual blessing that is ours in him. Just as we pull out all the stops for our family around celebrations such as holidays or birthdays, so Jesus pulls out all the stops when we gather as his people around his table. We are given food that is the “richest of fare”, and even then reminded it is only a foretaste of the grand banquet that is to come.
Are you ready? Are you ready to “taste and see that the Lord is good?” Come to the table, and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Come to bear witness and proclaim a gospel that is big enough, wide enough, deep enough, and strong enough to withstand all that hell could throw at it, and emerge conquering and victorious. Come and take your place at the family table. The food is still hot, and your seat is waiting for you.
Sometimes, quotes are good, and I would screw them up if I added too much. So enjoy these.
From John Witvliet:
“Christian worship is a like a covenant-renewal service in which the gathered reaffirm the vows made with God in Christ. Guided by a liturgy, in a worship service, we renew the promises we make (and often failed to keep) to God, and we hear again the promises God has made (and kept!) in Christ. One legitimate, nourishing, robust, vital reason for assembling today is for nothing less than the renewal of the new covenant we have with God in Christ.”
He continues to clarify:
“The pastoral question we face is whether most people experience worship this way, or whether, in contrast, they really experience it as a meeting of a religious social club, or an educational forum, or a form of entertainment. Because these other kinds of events are common in our culture, we are bound to take our expectations for them into worship with us. In contrast, worshipers need to be challenged to see the worship event as a deeply participational, relational event, in which we are active listeners, speakers, promise-receivers, and promise-givers.”
Oh, that God would grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand, that we are called in to a deeply participational kind (both with God and each other) of service where we actively listen and speak, and receive and make promises and oaths. Amen!