TORRINGTON, CONN (SZS) — Ash Wednesday, which was on March 1st this year, began the church season of Lent, the forty day period of fasting and spiritual preparation before Easter. In the early church, Lent was also a time of spiritual preparation for those new Christians who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It is a time for us, too, to be intentional about growing in our spiritual life as the baptized children of God that we are. There are a variety of ways in which we can tend to our spiritual life, including fasting, prayer, the study of Scripture, or being better stewards of the life with which God has gifted us.
However, consider that Lent this year is a milestone year for Lutherans: for it falls on the year which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses, considered to be the beginning of the Reformation in Germany. Luther and the Reformers emphasized the importance of Faith, Grace, and Scripture; translated from Latin as: Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone.
As Christians, the Lenten season invites us to deepen our spirituality and relationship with God and each other. For Lutherans, it is especially appropriate for us to engage in spiritual growth activities that emphasize Faith, Grace, and Scripture. This can include being more attentive to such practices as Bible study, worship, prayer, and service to others in the name of Christ. Remember devotional prayer as you walk through this year’s Lenten journey. Be sure to check out the devotions offered by faculty and alumni of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. You might also wish to contemplate the meanings of Lent. The Women of the ELCA created a resource to help us meditate on the nature of Lent as a season of renewal, penitence, pilgrimage, and preparation for the Glory of God.
Many of our spiritual practices include food. We gather at God’s table of grace and partake of the Lord’s Supper. We gather in our congregations and communities for soup suppers. And there’s the centuries-old tradition of “giving something up” for Lent. Many of us fast or give up certain foods as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. However, during the six weeks of Lent, you and your congregation are invited to “add” something to your spiritual journey: such as a focus on wellness by being good stewards of the body God has provided for you.
This year, Portico Benefit Services is inviting us to support a wellness reformation in our personal lives, congregations, and communities, by “creating a culture in our churches and organizations that supports healthy lifestyles.” In addition, ELCA health plan members who complete the Live Well Challenge can earn up to $400 wellness dollars to help in offsetting health costs this year. As Portico has so aptly put it: “In the ELCA, it’s critical that we pay attention to our health together, strengthen ourselves for ministry, and work in our congregations and organizations to create places of healthy culture.”
The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation was formally launched in our synod at our Slovak Zion Synod Assembly 2016 this past September. We invited one another into study and contemplation of Luther’s Small Catechism, and distributed copies of the catechism to Assembly participants. As Luther himself said: “I must still read and study the catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and a pupil of the catechism, and I do it gladly.” Why not use the season of Lent as the time to launch this year’s study of Luther’s Small Catechism in your personal devotional life or in your congregation?
Another resource for your spiritual enrichment during Lent is also connected to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rick Steves’ “Luther and the Reformation” is one such resource for all of us – pastors and lay people alike – to better understand our Lutheran roots and help us in our continued journey of understanding the Gospel. Rick Steves is a member of an ELCA congregation, an author, the host of ‘Rick Steve’s Europe’, an American Public Television series, and a top speaker on the European Reformation. Rick Steves’ Luther and the Reformation is airing on PBS throughout 2017.
Consider reflecting on this film personally or discussing with a group such questions as: Did you find anything new or surprising? What similarities or differences did you notice between Luther’s time and our own? How did Luther’s realization that he could not earn God’s love, which is freely given, change his life? Have you ever had a spiritual realization that changed you?
As you journey through this holy season of Lent, may it be a time of meaningful spiritual enrichment and growth for you, your congregation, and your community, as together you prepare for the joy of the Resurrection.