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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

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.”

Lamenting with the Psalms: A Brief Guide

This Lent, we are entering the practice of communal lament. If you missed Fr. Kevin’s sermon from Ash Wednesday, “The Power of Lament,” he listed 5 elements you’ll usually find in laments. You may find these helpful as you express your own pain to God.

  1. Reminding God how he acted in the past (example: Psalm 44:1-2)

  2. Describing how bad the suffering is (example: Psalm 44:9-10)

  3. Asking hard questions of God– like “How long?” and “Why don’t you act?” (examples: Psalm 44:24; Psalm 13:1-2)

  4. Dealing with our sin—if that’s involved. Some psalms, like 78, clearly confess the people’s sins, but others say, “Yes, we did sin, but now we’ve been punished enough” (like Psalm 79). Some even say, “We’re innocent. This suffering is not something we deserve” (Psalm 44:17-22)

  5. Pleading for God to help (Psalm 44:23-26)


Kevin Miller was editor and vice-president at Christianity Today for 26 years and then associate rector at Church of the Resurrection for 5 years. He has been the rector at Savior since January 2017, and is also the co-founder of PreachingToday.com and CTPastors.com.

Kevin Miller was editor and vice-president at Christianity Today for 26 years and then associate rector at Church of the Resurrection for 5 years. He has been the rector at Savior since January 2017, and is also the co-founder of PreachingToday.com and CTPastors.com.

 
 

Grief Resources for Children

Savior’s Coordinator of Youth Ministries, Ellen Vosburg, has suggested some activities and resources for helping children process grief. With the death of Marilyn Stewart and the grief our church family is feeling, we hope these resources can be helpful as we talk with the children of Savior.

Suggestions:

  • Spend some time over the next weeks and months sharing memories and stories that you and your children have about Marilyn. Share with one another the ways Marilyn influenced your lives and was a friend or spiritual mother or grandmother. Talk about how important she was to who we are today, both as individual families and as a church family.

  • Read Scripture about death and the resurrection together. Good passages to read and reflect on together are Isaiah 25:6-9, John 11:1-44, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, and Revelation 21:1-7. Observe together what God thinks about death. Be open with one another about the way death makes us feel. Notice how God promises life eternal for his disciples and remember how we will all be with God together in our resurrected bodies. Imagine together what our resurrected bodies might be like.

Resources:

  • “Talking with My Kids about Death” (Christianity Today): In this article, the author recounts how her children responded to the death of their uncle. She gives good advice about how to lean into children’s questions, wonderings, and imaginings about death.

  • “Good Grief” (Fuller Youth Institute): This article discusses how to help students grieve any loss well. The article is aimed at youth workers, but the principles would be helpful for parents, too. It discusses some tendencies we have when people are grieving that are best to avoid, and then recounts some principles of memory sharing and hopefulness that help students grieve well.

  • “The Dos and Don’ts of Talking with a Child about Death” (Psychology Today): This article provides some helpful dos and don’ts about how your child or teen might react to death and provides suggestions for how to come alongside them in your own grief.

Savior member Alice Teisan also suggests the resources found at GriefShare.