Dear CME Family:
I am eternally indebted to my parents and to the churches of my first formation (Phillips CME in Huntsville, Ala., and Frazier CME in Athens, Ala.) and the church of a later formation (Scruggs Memorial, St. Louis, Mo.) for learning and exercising the importance of the Lenten Season. These forty days (beginning February 17, Ash Wednesday, and continuing until Easter – not counting Sundays) call Christians to “prepare” as we walk with Christ toward the anguished Passion of Good Friday and into the “Hallelujah” of Easter Sunday.
But what are we preparing for? Early this morning, while praying with the CME Connectional Prayer Call in the Eastern Time Zone (605-468-8885, code is 616984#), I heard one of the praying women (a minister’s spouse) say to God, “For we know the story, we know how it ends; but we are preparing for a new awakening.”
“A New Awakening” can be so many things: it can be the conversion of a non-believer; it can be the awareness of God’s presence in one’s life like never before; it can be a new discernment of God’s gifts upon you as a believer; it can mean a new spirit that has found new “medicine” for you to go forward with; it can be a new understanding of God’s grace active in you. Yes, a “new awakening” is what we are preparing for as we walk with Jesus on this 40-day journey.
Years ago, at one of the early Pastors’ Conferences, I heard the preaching of Dr. Oliver Haney, then dean of the C. H. Mason School of Theology at the ITC (now bishop of the Northern Georgia First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Church of God in Christ) preach from the text, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). He “called my number” during that sermon, for everything he preached about as adversity were things I was walking through at that time. Yes, he called out my bad news. But then, he entered the “good news” phase of the sermon and gave me the needed antidote for my adversity: “You need,” he said, “some strengthening medicine.”
Lent, my Brothers and Sisters, is a vehicle, an avenue, a way for us to get our “strengthening medicine.”
I called the name of Scruggs Memorial Church above because that church gave me a systematic structure for Lenten involvement that blessed me greatly. I never knew such a good arrangement before, nor since. And, ironically, it was one of those things I might have “cut out” as the “new pastor” that year, had not Ms. Aggie Rudolph asked for an appointment, sat with me, and asked me, “Please don’t change it before you see it.” She was the coordinator of the evangelism group, and her group had some responsibility for it. Every Wednesday during Lent (Scruggs was a church located near downtown) there was a short service from 12:15-12:45 that included a 10-12 minute message, focused on Jesus on His way to Calvary. And then, on Good Friday, there was a full three-hour service of hymns, Scriptures, and prayers that focused on the seven last words and ended in renewal during altar call – from noon until 3 PM.
The service arrangement was the birthchild of my predecessor, the Rev. Robert L. Douglass. After experiencing it once, it became essential to my understanding of the rhythm of church life at Scruggs.
Those services prepared me during Lent. Each year after the Lenten services at Scruggs Memorial, I was “ready” for the joy of Eastertide! They had helped me prepare by giving me my “strengthening medicine.”
Perhaps you need your own renewal, your own revival, your own medicine. Perhaps these forty days of Lent – beginning today – can be your “strengthening medicine.” But I beg you to remember that the services were not just “happenstance”: they were planned; because they were aimed for people who worked downtown to be able to come on their lunch hour, they were timely; and because they were intentional means of spiritual formation and not just an opportunity for preachers to preach, they were focused.
I pray you can identify with the discipline I received by not cutting out what my predecessor had started, and I pray that you will adopt a discipline for yourself during this season of preparation. If you do, I believe you will reap the harvest of “a new awakening” on Easter.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick