My spiritual roots run deep. I was born and raised in the south with practically all of my existence being centered around life at our Baptist church where my Dad was the pastor for about 43 years. This was my “branch”. Jesus was our strong Foundation and the gospel message was the pillar we stood on.
As an adult, my spiritual roots have deepened further with branches stretching out beyond denominational walls. I’ve found beauty in diversity and have close relationships with friends from many different denominations–other “branches”– who deeply love and follow Jesus. I’ve come to realize that all of us grafted into the True Vine–Jesus Christ–are part of the larger body of believers in Jesus Christ.
Even though observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Easter season was obviously a very big deal, my particular “branch” didn’t observe the Lenten season. No harm. No foul. Just different. With this background in mind, the words Lent and liturgy, etc. were foreign words to me that I didn’t really know much about until I became an adult. The “branches” sometimes had differences that kept us from touching and seeing the beauty, strength and vital nutrients that might be pressing through. My heart longed for more …
In the last few years I’ve become more and more drawn to this observation of Lent …a 40 day journey leading up to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ–Easter Sunday. This strong desire and longing led me to begin this Lenten season by actually attending a local church service observing Ash Wednesday . Being a novice to all this — and a chicken at that!–I called my Anglican friend and resident authority on the subject of “the Church Calendar”, Lent and all that good stuff and pelted her questions …asking advice on how to go about this “Lent” thing. She patiently guided me through the meaning and even looked up a local church that might fit the bill we were looking for — a”branch” welcoming another “branch” to participate in their worship.
The call to the Rector was quite hilarious …
“Uhhh…I’m a pastor’s wife in the area and I really want to come and experience an Ash Wednesday service. Can I come and observe …participate … uhhh…how does that work? ” (I don’t want to mess up, basically, and feel stupid!) Still a little nervous, I grabbed my former Catholic friend and off to the service we went!
Here’s the beauty I found …
The season of Lent is a time set aside to “re-orient our life to Jesus Christ” …to focus on Him …to repent of our sins, “habits, and patterns that have led us astray” …to renew our faith …a coming back / returning to the Lord. No matter the “branch” you perch on, these words are all good!
Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten Season and in the words of my friend, Debby …”it forces you to see your own sin and pettiness and selfishness and puts the spotlight on your heart …repenting …remembering we are dust.” Another thought from Rev. Hatley …”What is the “beast” or animal we “feed?” — Lent is about stopping that!”
During this season, some will “give up” something they love — like coffee, sweets, TV, etc. — in an effort to deny themselves some luxury so their focus and discipline can be more fully on the Savior. Others may “add” a discipline such as reading through the Gospels or going through a particular devotional–something tangible–to “re-orient” themselves to focus their attention on Jesus.
As for me, there’s no “law” I’m taking on regarding this …as my friend says, “there’s no ‘Lent police’ ” 🙂 . My point is this …there’s no need to throw out traditions completely because they’re misunderstood or misinterpreted or misused. Anyone can make something a into a legalistic form. My desire is to use this as a tool to re-focus, re-orient, renew my love and focus on my Savior, Jesus Christ.
In doing that, the first step is almost always …repentance. The beauty of Ash Wednesday is the symbolic nature of reminding us we “are dust, and to dust we shall return.” The tangible act of smearing ashes on our foreheads in the shape of the cross is such a powerful picture of sin’s stain and the glorious, humbling truth that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only way that stain can be wiped away. This truth hit home as the Rector read from Isaiah 1 …
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
Sin stains. Jesus washes it clean. Remember that!
And as I wiped the “stain” of the cross from my forehead, I understand in a more visible way what David meant in Psalm 51 when he said, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of Your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin…Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.”
“The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
So take my broken mess …
and make something beautiful …Purify …Restore …
If you’d like to join me on this organic journey to the Cross, here’s a great resource from a favorite author and blogger, Ann Voskamp, and it just happens to be open to all “branches” 🙂 …
Let this season be, in the words of Stephen Curtis Chapman, a “Glorious Unfolding”!
Special thanks to my friends who walked with me — Debby and Faith — and to the Rector, Rev. Geoffrey Hatley, and the warm welcome and fellowship of the body of Christ at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Madison, Alabama.
Photo credit: “Broken glass” by my daughter, Rachel Martin Raddatz
Photo info: Stained glass window photo taken at Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Pacolet, SC …Thanks also to the beautiful body of Christ who meet there.