The following is written by Cindy Ehlke of Calvary Presbyterian:
Feb. 10 marked the beginning of Lent for 2016. Lent is the 40-day period that culminates in Easter. In many churches, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. There is often a simple, quiet service where we are to reflect upon our own spiritual journey and the path that Jesus took leading to his crucifixion and resurrection. Some people receive a mark of the cross on their forehead, symbolizing dying to sin and rising again to new life.
Here at Calvary, we have weekly “simple soup” suppers each Wednesday in Lent followed by a time of meditation on a portion of Scripture. We follow this with a very beautiful service of music called the Holden Evening Prayer.
I happened to be looking over this piece of music, taking time to relive the music as it had been sung on Ash Wednesday. A particular phrase in the piece stood out to me. It says, “God of daybreak, God of shadows, come and light our hearts anew.” What I noticed is that God is a God of all parts of our days. There is an acknowledgement that our days can be full of light or full of shadows and anywhere in between. And the good news is that God is there in all of it, all of the time.
This particular bit of the song stood out because of a conversation I had just had before picking up the piece of music. One of the case workers from Plateau Outreach Ministries and I had been discussing the dilemma of a family in our congregation. One conversation led to another. We ended up talking about what true community means. Then she said something that will stick with me for a long time. She said we should come to church prepared to leave our masks at the door. She went on to explain that sometimes we come to church and put on our “smiley faces,” because that is what you do.
There is a paradox here. Think about the very difficult last week of Jesus’ life. He enters Jerusalem as a hero and ends the week suffering ridicule, an illegal arrest and dies an excruciating death. So, if that has been done for us, why should we not come to church just as we are – sometimes happy, sometimes down, sometimes angry, sometimes plagued with doubts? It seems that if we believe in a God that is the God of our daybreaks and of our shadows, it should be OK for us to come sometimes able to give to our community and at other times wanting our community to be there for us.
To be fair, I think we do try to walk alongside of one another no matter what. But this caseworker’s expression had to come from some people’s experience that it is not OK to be just human and frail. Maybe we should have a basket at the entrance to our church doors that says, you may leave your masks here. I think it would send a very good message to people who do not come as often to church that it is really an OK place to be.
The last phrase in the song I quoted above invites God to “come and light our hearts anew.” When people had the sign of the cross put on their foreheads, it was a way to connect their physical selves to their spiritual selves. Maybe if we imagine taking off our masks as we enter church, we make more room for God to light our hearts and cast some light into our shadowed places. In other words, we connect how we are doing and what we feel with the need to have spiritual renewal.
So for Lent, I invite us to leave our masks at the door and enter church with the perspective of being open and vulnerable. That is one very concrete way to give the Spirit the chance to do some new things in each of us during this Lenten season.