And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (Micah 6:8)
In less than two weeks Christians all over the world will observe the season of Lent which begins with the imposition of ashes on believers’ foreheads on Ash Wednesday. To emphasize the importance of this sacred time together, the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church staff invites the congregation to WALK HUMBLY during Lent. We will kick-off the season with special worship services on Sunday March 6—Walk Humbly in Creation—in which you’ll need to wear your most comfortable walking shoes for a walk on the church grounds. (If you are unable to go on this walk, please stay in the sanctuary where you will be led to “walk humbly” from your seat). Next, join us for the Ash Wednesday worship service at 7 pm on March 9 as we become “marked” for our continued walk with Christ toward the cross in Jerusalem.
Over the next six weeks we will focus on different themes in creative ways within and outside the church’s walls: Walk Humbly with One Another; Walk Humbly with God’s Creatures; Walk Humbly in the Garden; Walk Humbly as a Child; Walk Humbly Towards Jerusalem; and Walk Humbly in the Darkness, the latter of which will center around the Good Friday Service at 7 pm on April 22.
But what does this observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent truly mean for Christians? What does it mean for us to “walk humbly” for more than a month? And why exactly do we need ashy smudges above our eyebrows? Maybe we should skip the Ash Wednesday thing, seems creepy to walk around with a dirty forehead? It’s a routine practice of our Catholic friends but too weird for us Presbyterians to do! Isn’t Lent when we’re supposed to give up eating chocolate or watching The Jersey Shore for 40 days until Easter? Giving up stuff is kind of a Catholic practice but it’s a nice idea so why can’t Protestants do the same thing?
These types of questions and comments have been commonplace for decades in Presbyterian churches including our own. While putting together the Lenten theme for PHPC, the church staff is pondering deeper meanings of the season. We are having creative, invigorating and spiritually uplifting conversations as we rediscover the mysterious love and grace of God. In the PC(USA) the season of Lent—a period of 40 days—is a time of prayer, fasting, self-examination and service that helps us prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning.
As Dr. Martha Moore-Keish, associate professor of theology at Columbia Seminary, puts it:
“Presbyterians do not enter this period of fasting and prayer to attract God’s attention or to be noticed by other people. Lent is a way of paying attention to our own lives. We receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads to focus our attention on who we really are…Ash Wednesday and the whole of Lent provide a time to focus our attention on the mystery at the heart of the Christian life: that through the death of Jesus Christ, we have entered new life…The paradox of Ash Wednesday, and of Lent, is that we take on particular disciplines—fasting, prayer, service—in order to repent and conform ourselves more closely to the life and death of Christ, all the while recognizing that Christ has already come to us before we sought him.”
In other words, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are not about us cutting out junk food or countless hours of web-surfing. (Honestly, giving up those things is just a pious, albeit unintentional, way to attract the attention of God and others). Ash Wednesday and Lent is actually an incredible opportunity to practice humility and compassion together in our spiritual journey. The church staff is looking forward to being with you as we WALK HUMBLY with God and one another.