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The Way of the Cross: Artwork by Michael O'Brien and Music by The Brilliance

A longstanding tradition during the Lenten season is to journey with Jesus on the Way of the Cross.  Many churches pray through the Stations weekly throughout Lent.  This is a practice in which the Church renounces and re-orders its rhythms into Christ.  Those who go on this journey identify with Jesus in his agony, betrayal, accusation, denial, condemnation, mockery, abandonment, forsakenness and ultimately his death and burial.  And if we are honest, we realize that we are the ones inflicting this pain upon him, joining with the crowd: "Crucify Him!"

The depictions in the video below come from John Paul II's Biblical Way of the Cross, which is a variation of the traditional Stations of the Cross.  Michael O'Brien is the artist.  I loved his work so much that back in 2009 when the booklet was first published by Ave Maria Press I contacted Mr. O'Brien and asked permission for our church to print and use his paintings in our worship space.  He was incredibly generous to send me the digital files to enable us to do so!

The music in the video comes from the song "Mercy" by The Brilliance off of their self-titled record.  At the end of the song is the beautiful (and eerie) refrain, "Kyrie eleison," which means "Lord, have mercy."  I think it complements O'Brien's artwork nicely.

I invite you to take a few minutes to watch this video.  As you're reflecting on this part of the story, consider your own participation in the death of Christ.  How are you entering into the sufferings of Christ?  What in your life needs to die?  Who in your life are you inflicting with pain or even murdering in your heart?  How can you take up your cross and follow Jesus more closely this season?


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Lent Reflection: A New Exodus, a New Temple, and a Coming Kingdom

This is a guest post by my friend Scott Erdenberg. Scott is a fellow lover of worship theology and struggling practitioner at Church of the Shepherd in Hyde Park, Chicago. This Lent Reflection (and another to come) is one way he is faithfully leading Church of the Shepherd and readers of this blog to renounce and re-order our rhythms in Christ this season.



A New Exodus, a New Temple, and a Coming Kingdom

Luke 9:28-36

In this famous passage often called “The Transfiguration” we discover a brief glimpse at what Jesus intends to do as he walks to Jerusalem to face his passion. In verse 31, Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about his “departure” – the exact word Luke uses here “exodus”, which Jesus was “about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.” Just as God delivered his people from bondage and death in Egypt, he once again planned a new exodus – this time for all people.

Peter’s exclamation seems to make more sense in light of this fact – he suggests that they build three “tabernacles” (or “shelters”) on the mountain for God to dwell with his people once again. During the exodus God intentionally inhabited a temporary tabernacle as his people journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was in this tabernacle (and later the temple) where heaven and earth intersected in a unique way – it was there where God was fully King, and invited his people to be agents of his kingdom to the rest of the world. Upon hearing Jesus, Elijah and Moses discuss the new exodus, Peter wrongly assumes that this would be the new place where God will dwell with his people again.

God here interrupts Peter for the very best of reasons – instead of building a new tabernacle here, Jesus intends to replace the temple with his own body. In him and through him heaven and earth would again intersect in a unique way – and through his exodus (his death and resurrection), God’s kingdom would finally defeat the powers of death and evil that stood in rebellion to God’s kingdom being all in all. God urges Peter, James and John to listen to Christ in the following days as he marches to Jerusalem to claim his rightful place as God’s true presence in the world.

Here we may stop and reflect together – where is God inviting to deliver you from sin and death? In what areas of your life are you being asked to pray that God’s kingdom would once again break-through into our world, that his “kingdom would come, and will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?” And how is God acting through you by His Spirit to embody His kingdom and invite others to dwell in his presence?

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Preparing for Lent

"Ash Wednesday" by Carl Spitzweg

Not unlike most mornings, I woke up this morning feeling anxious.  The first thing on my mind was, of all things holy and blessed, Facebook.  I have found myself the last couple of weeks participating in (even provoking) some controversial conversations.  I don't handle these kinds of conversations well, let alone have the time for them.  They oftentimes keep me up late into the night and disable me from being fully present with my family.  It's no wonder I'm a ball of anxiety.

What Is Lent and Why Should We Practice It?
Lent is the season in the Christian year when followers of Jesus walk with him to his death and burial. The season lasts forty days (not including Sundays).  It begins Ash Wednesday and ends Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday).  It is a time for the church to re-order its life once again into the Story that defines who we are.  We do so by simplifying our lives, centering on Christ and joining together with others while we do it.  Glenn Packiam spells it out nicely here.

Lent is about rhythm.  We are rhythmic creatures.  We do things in sequences and steps, marching to the beats of drummers.  The problem is, as Jesus constantly pointed out to his disciples, there are lots of drummers out there, pounding away to capture our attention, calling us to follow them and submit to their story.  Lent is the Jesus drum, calling us back into the left-right-left of God's Story.  If it's not Jesus' drum that we're marching to, it's someone else's.  If it's not the Story of God that we're submitting our lives to, it is someone else's story.  I promise.  So Lent is also a time for the church to renounce all the other stories we have lived into, and to submit singularly to God's Story.

But this is not a robotic submission.  Robots don't have hearts.  We march to the beats of drummers because we actually like the music they're playing.  We desire the life they present to us, and so we follow them.  With every beat and subsequent step we are being formed to look like the drummer we're following.  This is why it's so important that we get in step with Jesus.  We want to be like him.

In a phrase, Lent is a season to renounce and re-order our rhythms into Christ.

The Practices of Lent
Renouncing and re-ordering our rhythms takes practice.  Practices shape us into the kinds of people who love certain things.  The practices of Lent are intended to spiritually transform us, to re-shape our desires toward the things of God.  Lent will only do the work it's intended to do if we submit our hearts and bodies to its practices.  There are both communal and individual practices.

The communal practices of Lent are pretty straightforward.  You could call them the "family traditions" of our faith that great men and women in history have discerned and laid our before us.  Your local church may also have some practices that the leaders have discerned to fit your unique context.  The communal practices of Lent allow Christians to unite together in prayer as one body.  It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the church gathers to consider our mortality: "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return."  The communal practices continue throughout Lent as we gather around the table in our churches and homes, centering our lives on Christ, strengthening one another.  And finally, we enter fully into the Passion Story by corporately proclaiming and re-enacting the events of Holy Week.

The individual practices of Lent require a different kind of discernment.  God is doing a unique work in each of our lives, and each of us is responsible for our own heart and actions.  But before we know how to act, and to ensure that our hearts are engaged (that our actions aren't merely robotic), we must hear what God is saying to us.  So as you're discerning what to "give up" and/or "take on" as an individual practice, I invite you to reflect on these questions, first listening for what God is saying to you, and then responding accordingly.  You may want to invite others to help you discern a practice.

  • Why should I "give up" or "take on" something this season?  How will this re-order my life in Christ?
  • Am I willing to submit to the practices of Lent?  If not, why not?  Could I make it my individual practice to submit to a communal practice?
  • Is there a "drummer" in my life that I need to renounce?  What small step could I take to begin marching to the beat of Jesus?
  • What activities are already part of my daily life rhythms? How can I be present with God more fully in the midst of them?
  • Is there something I tell myself I cannot live without, but I actually can live without?  Can I abstain from it for a season and replace it with another practice?
  • What rhythm (or spiritual discipline) have I always wished was a vibrant part of my spiritual life? Why isn't it?  Could I replace something in my life with this rhythm?
  • What in my life makes me anxious, angry, or afraid?  Why?  What could it look like to surrender this to God?
I hope this is helpful.  I haven't discerned an individual practice for myself yet.  I will submit this to my wife and a few friends and see what they think, but my practice might involve laying off the Facebook and perhaps giving myself over to more healthy rhythms of sleep and family time.  May God bless you as you enter faithfully into this season of renouncing and re-ordering your rhythms into Christ.

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