A Joyful Journey

In this edition of A Joyful Journey, Bishop David Bard shares a Lenten love story.

Let me begin by thanking so many of you who have written me about my invitation to pray this week for our United Methodist Church and the work of the Commission on the Way Forward. Thank you for your encouraging words and for your commitment to be in prayer.

A funny thing is happening this year. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent in the Church falls this year on February 14, Valentine’s Day, our cultural celebration of love. Will there be romantic candle light dinners, followed by worship where we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return? If you are giving up chocolate for Lent, what do you do with the heart-shaped box that arrives February 14? Do you imagine two people, ashen crosses on their foreheads, exchanging brightly colored cards?

Digging a bit more deeply, though, the coinciding celebration of Lent and of love could be seen as a wonderful serendipity. Lent after all, is not simply a reminder of our mortality or of our penchant for messing life up, or of our tendency to sin. Lent is meant to be a time to re-focus on what is most important. It is meant to be a time of reflection and renewal, a time to re-energize our lives through a deeper connection with the God we know in Jesus Christ. It is to seek to have our lives more fully transformed by the grace of God in Jesus. What does that look like? John Wesley thought it looked like love. Wesley defined the heart of Christian faith as love of God and neighbor. Wesley’s notion of Christian perfection was being made perfect in love. Let me share a love story that has a lot to do with Lent.

A few weeks ago, Julie and I drove to Mount Pleasant for their first morning worship service. As a bishop, one of my joys is sharing worship with you in many different places. It was a sunny, but cold morning. As we came into the entry way of the church, I could not help but notice a woman and her two young children, a boy and a girl, sitting there. I also could not help but notice that she had a wire cart filled with a number of possessions. I wondered briefly if she had shown up waiting to talk to someone about getting help. I wondered briefly if I might be asked for money. My brief wondering was quickly interrupted when the little girl, bundled in her warm hat and coat, came up to me and gave me a big hug. I was deeply touched and I thanked her for her kind greeting. Others arrived in the entry way, and we moved forward into the church.

During the morning worship I heard that the church had been home that weekend for some homeless persons and families. A number of congregations in the community take turns providing shelter for people without places. These guests had stayed the night at the church, and were being transported that morning to another location where they could spend the day. I am sure the little girl who hugged me had spent the night at the church and she and her mother and brother were waiting in that entry way for their ride to a day shelter.

Perhaps the little girl was able to share love in a hug because love had been shared with her through the church. Loving others in the name of Jesus, loving because we know we are loved wildly and deeply by God – Lent is a time to know that love of God more profoundly and to grow in sharing that love more widely and wildly.

I invite you to a holy, and wholly loving, Lent.