09 Mar Theology Straight Outta Junk Mail
Did you know that churches receive a ridiculous amount of marketing phone calls, flyers and junk mail? I suppose I had never thought about it before I actually went to work at a church, but of course, it makes sense, even if it is annoying. Are we interested in a new maintenance contract for our pest services? How satisfied are we with our copier? Would we like a trial subscription to a new children’s curriculum? How about free delivery for our cleaning supplies? It goes on and on and on.
I toss a lot of unsolicited paper in the recycling bin and truthfully, much of it receives barely a glance. But, last week something caught my eye. On the front of an appeal letter was this quote by Helen Keller:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
How appropriate that I would read this right as Lent was beginning. Lent is the season in the church during which we prepare for Holy Week and Jesus’ journey to the cross. Traditionally, it has been a time for self-examination and repentance, a season to acknowledge our deep need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Some people take on a particular spiritual discipline, like prayer or fasting (from a certain food or a habit such as social media or television) to help them focus on their spiritual well-being during these six weeks.
Getting back to Helen Keller’s words, it seems to me that Lent is a season that needs to be felt and experienced with the heart. I do not mean to imply in any way that we “check our intellect” at the door, but if we use only our heads to survey what Jesus went through during the last week of his life, we will entirely miss the point. We will miss why those events changed the course of human history and we will miss how they are intended to impact and shape our lives today.
Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, we began a new sermon series, 24 Hours That Changed the World, based on Adam Hamilton’s book by the same name. For six Sundays we will trace each of the major events that occurred during the last day of Jesus’ life, following him as he moves from location to location until he finally ends up at Golgatha.
The journey started in the Upper Room where Jesus ate the Passover feast with his disciples. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to read this story as a flat, two-dimensional recitation of a familiar tale, but we want to do more than that. We feel the story when we step into it ourselves; when we imagine what it would have been like for Peter and John to join the throngs at the Temple court where the lamb that would be their supper later that night was first offered and butchered; what the food might have looked and smelled and tasted like; when we see ourselves reclining at the table as one of the disciples; when we are jolted by Jesus’ words that one of his friends would betray him that very night.
The Last Supper comes alive to us when we hear Jesus speak new, unexpected words over the bread and the wine, words of a new covenant, words that we’re told to remember and repeat as we re-enact this meal, which my church did following the sermon on Sunday.
Rather than viewing Lent as some kind of “downer” in the church calendar, I believe God is inviting us to embrace this season as “the best and most beautiful thing in the world” (and simultaneously the most horrific) and to open our hearts to feel and experience the suffering of Christ. We need not fear this journey, for friends, we know Easter is coming. But, we will never be able to appreciate why Easter is such earth-shattering, life-changing Good News if we don’t first walk with Jesus to the cross. I hope you’ll open your heart and join the journey.
Yours for the Kingdom,