Lent

Not a Taskmaster: Turning to Jesus in our Lenten Discipline

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional Lenten disciplines I grew up with. As a child in the Roman Catholic church, I vividly remember one Lent when I gave up candy. My grandmother made this amazing pecan brittle and one Sunday she offered it to me and my siblings. That candy was a rare treat but despite encouragement to enjoy it, since it was a “feast” day, I abstained. About a week after Lent, my grandmother paid me a visit and brought me a whole batch of that pecan brittle! I thought, “Wow! did that fasting stuff pay off!” 

Over the decades since, my experience with spiritual disciplines has matured and it has also become more challenging. Whether Lent is the first time you’ve taken up a spiritual discipline or you regularly engage in spiritual disciplines, you have probably experienced struggles, setbacks or have neglected your practice. This is normal though it is easy to be hard on ourselves when this happens. 

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers says it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become an expert. Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin says, “Extensive research in a wide range of fields shows that many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started.”

Even knowing this kind of information, I still feel the need to master my spiritual disciplines. The first memory I have of struggling in my discipline was at least ten years ago. I was discouraged, feeling guilty and anxious about how I was doing. In desperation, I turned to Jesus asking what I needed to do: “Should I spend more time, try to be more focused or fervent?”

Surprisingly, what I heard was “I am not a taskmaster.” Jesus didn’t instruct me on my activities or lack of them but on my wrong thinking about Him and who I had made Him out to be. He spoke into the core of my concerns, telling me that He was not judging me — Jesus is not standing over us and judging us as we practice our discipline. That critical voice is not His!

Recently, I sensed that the Lord was inviting me into a different discipline, one that gets me out of my comfort zone. I am to listen each day to know how I am to spend my time with Him. I have to pay attention and it could be different every day. For me, this is a challenge. Did I mention that I like routine? As I began this practice of listening, here is what I sensed the Lord saying to me that I wrote in my journal:

“I know this feels uncomfortable because it is new and not how you naturally go about things. It is like learning anything new. You will make mistakes or false starts. You will not be able to do it well or comfortably as you are learning this new rhythm. I am gentle and kind and do not judge or condemn you as you judge and condemn yourself. But, as a loving parent, I encourage and delight in your efforts and am ready to pick you up when you fall short. Try to think of this as a new adventure with Me, not something you have to get right but a path we can journey together.”

These are certainly not words I would say to myself. They are much too gracious and surprising. But this reflects the Lord’s gentle and gracious nature towards us.

In times of struggle, I have gotten to see and experience who God truly is. Rather than floundering in guilt, self-doubt or recrimination, we’ve been invited to turn our faces to Jesus, to let Him speak into our hearts, into the situation. To be reminded of the truth, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).

Wherever you are with your Lenten disciplines, the Lord is right there ready to encourage you, pick you up or welcome you back. I love the story that Father Thomas Keating tells, when the nun who tried Centering Prayer for the first time says, “Oh, Father Thomas, I’m a failure at this prayer. In twenty minutes I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.” And he says, “How lovely – ten thousand opportunities to return to God.” May we also continue to return to God!


JoAnn McNeely has been a member of Savior with her husband, Steve, since 2008. She’s a spiritual director and artist; she serves on the intercessory prayer team and on the aesthetics team — and at Savior we enjoy her handiwork every week in the seasonal banners and many of the clergy vestments.

JoAnn McNeely has been a member of Savior with her husband, Steve, since 2008. She’s a spiritual director and artist; she serves on the intercessory prayer team and on the aesthetics team — and at Savior we enjoy her handiwork every week in the seasonal banners and many of the clergy vestments.

 
 

Prayer Requests for Holy Week

As Holy Week approaches, we invite you to use the following suggestions as you pray for our services and our community:

For our preparations

  • For all of us to enter our Lenten practice of communal lament

  • For Sandy Richter, our Holy Week coordinator, to have strength, health, and wisdom as she leads our planning

  • For Erin, our minister of music, and all our musicians to be drawn upward in worship as they prepare to lead us

  • For wisdom about how to handle any limits in parking or seating

  • For God’s Spirit to anoint and guide each preacher: Father Kevin on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday; Mother Karen at the Easter Vigil; and Mother Linda on Maundy Thursday

For our people

  • For our children and youth to deeply experience the love of Jesus and the life of the church, and for Pastor Mary, Sarah Lindsay, and Ellen Vosburg to be strengthened to serve them.

  • For our members who are sick and suffering, and those who love them, to have grace to bear with these limitations and still meet the Lord

  • For people who are new to Savior or returning to church in general, to be gently opened by God’s Spirit to receive all God has for them

  • For at least one person to return to God

  • For the many who serve in hidden ways, that they will enjoy the smile of Christ

  • For God to lead us as a people through these services, giving us discernment about the people and places He would have us serve

  • For God to raise up people with gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers who can lead a new Savior community when the time is right

For our worship:

  • For the Word of God to be proclaimed boldly and creatively through the Scripture readings in each service

  • For our prayers to be honest and Spirit-led, particularly during the Prayer Watch on Maundy Thursday and the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday

  • For people to have the grace to give freely, joyfully, without compulsion to the Good Friday gift, and for our gift to bless immigrants and refugees

  • For all the arts—music, drama, dance, banners, craftsmanship, and more—to be more fully released in our midst

  • For a deep taste of resurrection joy at the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services; for heaven to come down during our worship at these services

Candles and Holy Water: Embodied Worship During Lent

In the non-liturgical tradition in which I grew up, we seldom thought about worshipping God with our bodies. We thought about theology and invited Jesus into our hearts as we emphasized the spiritual and intellectual aspects of faith, but we talked very little about what it meant to worship God in our physical bodies as we live in the material world.

Only when I discovered liturgical traditions did I encounter a form of worship that sought to engage the whole person, not just the mind and heart. The "smells and bells" that had baffled me as a child and young adult suddenly clicked into place as forms of worship that engaged our senses.

Kneeling in prayer, walking forward for communion, standing for the Gospel reading: all of these physical movements involve our bodies in worship. Our physical postures also reinforce our worship, as we stand to show respect, bow our heads to show contrition, shuffle along the pews with our neighbors as we commune with Christ as a body.

The colors of the vestments and altar cloths direct our minds to the seasons of the church year: purple for the fasts, white for the feasts, green for the growing time. We feel the bread in our hands as we receive the body of Christ, taste the sweet acidity of the wine. The water of baptism runs down our heads.

Without doubt, we learn about and experience God in intangible ways. But we also experience God through the material world and in our embodied existence, a reality towards which the motions of our liturgical worship point.

During this season of Lent, Savior makes available two different tangible ways to connect with God in worship: through the holy water in the baptismal font at the entry to the sanctuary and through the candle table available during the Eucharist.

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The baptismal font, filled with holy water, stands first as a reminder of our own baptism. Even in this season of Lent, when we remember our great need for a savior, we take comfort in our baptism, in knowing that we are Christ's own.

Additionally, the baptismal font at the entrance reminds us that Jesus was baptized by John immediately before he went out into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, during which time he experienced temptation. Like us, Jesus suffered and was tempted in the wilderness; like us, he could cling to the assurance of his baptism as he suffered hunger and temptation.

Perhaps simply seeing the font is enough to remind you that you belong to Christ and that Christ suffered like you and for you. Dipping your fingers in the cool water and making the sign of the cross, physically engaging your senses and your body, can also be a powerful reminder of the cleansing waters of baptism.

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Like the physical presence of the water, the candle table offers a tangible representation of our prayers. The light of the candles, flickering upward, can remind us that our prayers are ascending to God; the flame itself might remind us of the Holy Spirit, present with the people of God, or of the light of Christ.

However, no matter the tradition we grew up in, candles can feel a little strange, a little too ritualistic — as if we are catching God's attention through our actions. The candles we light are symbolic, but not magical. They are a physical representation of something spiritual, but they do not give our prayers special weight.

Lighting a candle for a prayer can be meaningful, but it is never necessary; do not feel obligated to light a candle if you are uncomfortable with the idea. But as you see the lit candles flickering on the table, your own or those of others, take a moment to prayer for the needs represented there. We all know that others in our community are praying for many things; as we see a physical reminder of those prayers, let it also remind us to pray for our community.

Lent is time to remember that we experience and worship God in our bodies as well as our minds and hearts. The ashes imposed on our foreheads at the start of Lent and the traditional spiritual discipline of Lenten fasting forces us to remember that we are embodied, we are dust.

Whether you engage with the candles or the water, Lent is a good opportunity to reflect on what it means to be embodied people whose Savior also became embodied with us, suffering as a human being for our sakes.


Sarah Lindsay currently serves as the Director of Communications and Coordinator of Children’s Ministry at Savior. Sarah has a background in teaching (English literature and writing) and she enjoys reading and writing. She has been an Anglican since she discovered liturgical worship in college; she and her family joined Savior in 2017.

Sarah Lindsay currently serves as the Director of Communications and Coordinator of Children’s Ministry at Savior. Sarah has a background in teaching (English literature and writing) and she enjoys reading and writing. She has been an Anglican since she discovered liturgical worship in college; she and her family joined Savior in 2017.

 
 

Lenten Giving Information *Updated*

This Lent, our church will be once again collecting a special offering to benefit the hundreds of refugee and immigrant families that live here in our community. And this year, the funds will be used to support two distinct services offered through World Relief’s local ministry, which include:

Trauma Counseling for Refugees

Goal: $5,000

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Many refugees have faced extreme trauma in their home countries, whether it is violence experienced or the terror of a harrowing flight from their homes. And once here in the U.S., the adjustment to their new lives can be just as stressful as they attempt to navigate a new culture with a foreign language. To help these refugees and other immigrants overcome this trauma and lead healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives, World Relief’s Counseling Center offers one-on-one mental health counseling, pro bono psychiatric services, and group therapy for adults of all ages. 

In 2014, after 7 long years of waiting, Suhad and her family were approved to resettle as refugees in Illinois. Her husband, who had suffered from arthritis in his knees for years, underwent two knee surgeries after they arrived. Everything went well, and he was recovering, until the afternoon he went to take a nap and never woke up. He was only 68 years old and had suffered a heart attack. Suddenly, Suhad’s world was turned upside down as grief took over, but she only knew a handful of people at the time, having been in the U.S. just eight months, so she had few people to turn to. Thankfully, a World Relief therapist was able to counsel her through those difficult months. She took up art to focus her mind on happier times. Between her art and her counseling, she was slowly able to regain a sense of purpose and meaning, despite the many terrible losses she had suffered. 

Citizenship Clinics for Refugees & Immigrants

Goal: $10,000

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For refugees and immigrants that have been driven from their home countries, few experiences give them a greater sense of pride and hope than becoming a U.S. citizen. To help them complete this complicated process, World Relief’s Immigration Legal Services (ILS) team hosts citizenship legal clinics at which up to 100 immigrants can be screened and complete their applications. These clinics are made possible with the generous assistance of dozens of volunteers and pro bono attorneys, and they are held in space provided by local churches. 

For many years, Jahan was persecuted in his home country because of his religion. His family was threatened, his social media accounts were monitored, and he was imprisoned and tortured several times. Even as a young boy, he dreamed of some day moving to the United States, where he had heard that he could be free. When he was finally approved to come to the U.S. as a refugee, he was thrilled to have the freedom to openly live out his faith as he had always dreamed. Five years after arriving, Jahan eagerly applied to become a citizen at one of World Relief’s citizenship clinics. As he was leaving the courtroom after taking his citizenship oath, he said, “I am so happy to have the rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen, so I can give back to the country that has given me so much.”


As we raise money for trauma counseling and citizenship clinics, we invite children to donate items to World Relief’s Early Childhood Program, which supports young children as their parents take classes. We invite children to contribute items from the list below; you may bring your donations to PHCC and place them in the box near the children’s worship rooms from now through Good Friday (April 19th).

  • Goldfish crackers

  • Ritz crackers

  • Animal crackers

  • Dixie paper cups (5 oz)

  • Paper towels

  • Construction paper

  • Play-Doh

  • Washable paints

  • Large glue sticks

  • CD Player

  • Children’s music CDs

  • Babyganics Alcohol free foaming hand sanitizer