Like a great waterwheel, the liturgical (Christian calendar) year goes on relentlessly irrigating our soul, softening the ground of our hearts, nourishing the soil of our lives until the seed of the word of God begins to grow in us, comes to fruit in us, ripens us in the spiritual journey of a lifetime. —Joan Chittister, as quoted by Steve Bell in Pilgrim Year: Lent (Novalis 2018)
By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada
I’ve been following the liturgical calendar and the Revised Common Lectionary for almost 20 years. Yet, at times I’ve been selective in the actual seasons that I preached. Christmas, Holy Week, and Pentecost have been easy for me to preach on an annual basis. But I have always struggled to deal with the 40-day pre-Easter period that the Revised Common Lectionary covers.
Maybe it was due to the fact that the biblical passages for that time of year hit close to home for me personally. Many of the selected passages deal with our human condition and the reason we need a Savior.
Quite frankly, I don’t like to preach about sin. It could be my aversion to slipping into promoting a form of legalism, as a way of avoiding sin. There also seems to be a lot of baggage associated with this 40-day Easter Preparation season. I’ve often heard of people giving up this or that during this time. To me it sounded like a form of Medieval penance.
But last year, I decided to tackle a couple of sermons that dealt with the RCL passages for this season. Surprisingly, rather than be a burden, they were liberating. One passage for this season was Luke 13:1-8, which talks about the killing of the Galilean innocents by Pilate and those killed in the fall of the tower in Siloam.
In this story told by Jesus, he repeats two times, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (verses 3, 5). It should be obvious to Christians that repentance is foundational to our walk with Jesus, but it takes on a special meaning as we figuratively journey with Jesus on his way to the cross.
Taking extra time for introspection, of our human condition without the grace of the Triune God, can be pretty humbling, and yet I believe necessary. I had to acknowledge my need to live a life of repentance.
That sermon on the need for repentance spoke to me. As did my concluding scriptures:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18, ESV)
The Easter Preparation season can provide a great time to reflect on our human reality.
In the Lent booklet of his Pilgrim Year Series, Steve Bell uses the analogy of earthly seasons and the movement from winter to spring to describe our spiritual journey:
But it is hard for us fallen creatures to appreciate how far we have deviated from the fullness of life and love and their ultimate object—God himself. We are accustomed to our winter; our retreat from life. We have so invested in its continuance—with our petty attachments and disordered loves—that we resist the winter thaw, tragically fearing the greening of spring to be loss, or a death rather than a release from it. Such is the nature of our sinful disorientation.
Our reorientation takes some time and leads us to focusing on the source of our faith, hope and love—Jesus Christ. It reminds us who we are in him and who he is in us.
The GCI Worship Calendar focuses on the Easter Preparation season to devote to this work of reorientation. The season points to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his prayer for Jerusalem, the Last Supper and Good Friday. It all leads to the reality that he is the fulfillment of all things. He is the source of our forgiveness; he is the redeemer; he is the advocate; he is the Savior of humanity. This reorientation then leads to the celebration of the resurrection, where we realize Jesus came to bring us into relationship with Father, Son and Spirit for eternity.
Easter Preparation reorientation helps us realize Jesus is the center of the center and we are able to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).
May the soil of your life feel the thaw of your reorientation that Easter Preparation can bring.