I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit as we enter the season of Lent. “The United Methodist Book of Worship” tells us that Lent “began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.” Lent begins with Ash Wednesday where we are reminded of our mortality. Somber colors are encouraged during the season, with an encouragement to remove “all shiny objects from the worship area,” and perhaps give up flowers. Individually, people often give something up for Lent.
It was last year during Lent that our churches were asked to refrain from in-person worship due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hope early on was that perhaps by Easter we would again be able to gather together for worship. It was not to be. Months later, we would also be asked to refrain from in-person worship during the Christmas season. We have given up a lot and we are not yet through this pandemic.
Of course, some have given up even more. This past year has been a year of incredible loss. Reminders of our mortality arrive every day as we hear the running total of deaths from COVID-19, now over 400,000 here in the United States. Some of you are grieving loved ones lost, whether from COVID or not. We have lost time together with family and friends, missed marking milestones in ways we would have liked. There have been moments when we’ve lost a measure of hope—moments such as the death of George Floyd, or when some of our cities were aflame, or when our political rhetoric burned, or when we witnessed the violent storming of the Capitol building.
Lent acknowledges loss and limits. It invites giving something up, but that never for its own sake. When we voluntarily give something up, it is intended to be in the service of creating space for something new, creating more space for God’s grace, God’s love. Lent reminds us we don’t have all the time in the world, so we are invited to use our time well. Lent reminds us that life entails real loss, so we’re invited to appreciate its good gifts when they come our way. Lent encourages us to be more disciplined in our use of time, in the direction of our attention, in the expenditure of our energy. Discipline—and the most important Lenten disciplines are the disciplines of love—patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, and humility. I wrote about these in my monthly blog for February, and I hope you will go back and read it.
Friends, Lent reminds us that we are fragile, mortal, and sometimes broken, that we know loss and that we lose our way. Yet we are always also loved by God, wildly and extravagantly, and in these limited mortal lives of ours we might reflect that love of God in what we do and who we are. Disciplines of love exercised in grace help us do that. I invite you to observe a holy Lent, honing the disciplines of love, knowing that you are loved by God.
Bishop David Bard is interim bishop for the Minnesota Conference. He also serves as resident bishop for the Michigan Conference.