Fourth Week in Lent
Shalom: the way to hope
Written by Susan Rheem and Ivy Lopedito
As Christians we hope for things yet seen. We look forward to the promise of a new day. Hope, though, can be hard to hold on to. In the season of Lent, what are you hoping for? Who do you hope in?
Add to your peace prayer “tree”
This past week, the daily devotionals talked about healing and wholeness. Add to your prayer “tree” petitions for those who are in need of healing, be it physical, emotional or spiritual.
Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 14
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. — Romans 8:24–25
I hope for a better future. We are living through a crisis of a lifetime. As I write this, the country is seeing the highest spikes in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, with no end in sight. The nation is shaken by the attack on our democracy. I hope everyone will be vaccinated soon, so we no longer need to worry about this virus. I hope we will work together to build a better democracy, work towards equity and justice for all people and build a stronger nation.
In times of crisis our relationship with God comes into full focus as we cry out for God’s attention. What’s important becomes very clear. In less chaotic times, we become so distracted by the routines of life that our relationship with God suffers. Our worship becomes rote, and our vision for a new way of doing things becomes dull. In those moments, our imagination can use a boost of color. And imagination is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. God’s handiwork in the Hebrew Scriptures is a way to imagine God’s glory as reflected in God’s creation — the sunrises and the sunsets, the sun and the moon and the stars, and the changing of the seasons, the mountains and the oceans — the magnificent glory of God’s creation echoing God’s glory.
Hope in God is an indwelling of God’s presence for the fulfilment of God’s promise to us in Christ. God invites us to be holy and to share in God’s glory. May we wait in devotion and service for that peaceable and flourishing world. May our imaginations of what can be beautifully color a new world yet to be seen.
Lord, the hope you give us is greater than what we can ever hope or imagine. Help us to be filled with your hope that awakens our spirits to serve you with joy, and with justice and mercy. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Monday, March 15
Beholding the beauty
One thing I ask of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. — Psalm 27:4
The word “Lent” comes from the old English word meaning “spring.” Lent is springtime, a season for rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal and, for Christians, the resurrection at Easter. Spring is a time for preparing for new life to grow.
Lent has traditionally been observed through the practice of self-denial such as fasting or giving up of luxuries like chocolates in order to recreate the sacrifices that Christ made. But self-denial isn’t an end in itself. Self-denial is a way to clean our hearts and minds so that new life might have room to come in.
So, during this Lenten season, perhaps think about a spiritual practice to make space for God to come into our lives. Devote a few minutes each day to rest in God, away from the hectic pace and the weariness and anxiety of modern life. And like the Psalmist who desired to do this more than anything, gaze at God’s beauty and inquire in God’s temple. Spend time with God in wonder and make room in your hearts and minds so that new life may be formed in you.
Lord, may we make time in our busy lives to find moments of reflection to gaze at your beauty and to rest in you so new life may grow in us. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Tuesday, March 16
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” — Revelation 21:1–5
Living in the time of COVID-19, when so many have died or have lost loved ones, we hope for the day when death will be no more, and God will wipe away every tear. As followers of Christ, we are a people of hope and we long to see this new world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr who stood up against the Nazi regime during World War II, was adamant about his hope in God: “Who would even want to speak of God without hoping to see God one day? Who would want to talk about peace or love among people without wanting to experience them one day in eternity? Who would want to talk about a new world and a new humanity without hoping that we would share in it? And why should we be ashamed of our hope? One day we will have to be ashamed not of our hope but of our pitiful and fearful hopelessness which believes God is capable of very little, and in false humility does not act where God’s promises are given. Such hopelessness gives up in this life and is not capable of looking forward to God’s eternal power and glory. Hope does not disappoint us. The more person dares to hope, the greater that person becomes with God’s hope. People grow with their hope, if only it is hope in God and God’s power alone.”
Lord, you have given us the gift of hope in Christ that does not disappoint us because your love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. May we continue to place our hope in you to make all things new. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Wednesday, March 17
Seeing things through
Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. — Isaiah 26:4
How many times do we start new projects with great enthusiasm only to become discouraged when we realize all the work that needs to go into it? The excitement wanes when reality strikes. We can’t see the end and we become discouraged and drop the project all together.
When the people following Jesus found out how hard it would be, many walked away. Jesus predicted this would happen. In the parable of the sower in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says that we are like seeds sown among the thorns. We hear the word, but the cares of the world, the lure of wealth and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, yielding nothing.
No matter the difficulties, though, God will give us the strength to follow God one step at a time. Isaiah reminds us on our Lenten journeys to “trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.” Jesus himself reminds us also not to worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink or wear. He says to consider the lilies of the field and see how they grow.
We have a great big God project to see through on this Lenten road and beyond — that of sharing the hope that we have in God. And God knows what we need and God will provide it. Will we see it to a good finish?
Lord, trusting in you leads to life. Help us to trust you more. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Thursday, March 18
A living hope
By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you. — 1 Peter 1:3b–4
It seems our popular culture craves superheroes that will save us from an impending doom: Wonder Woman, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America and Superman. With their supernatural powers, they can scale and jump over buildings and use their super strength to overcome evil forces.
But this pandemic has shown us that our real superheroes are ordinary people carrying out their duties, performing their responsibilities day in and day out. These are the doctors and nurses and health care workers in nursing homes, the postal workers and mail carriers, the delivery drivers, grocery cashiers and truck drivers — all of whom are essential workers keeping our society functioning as they put their lives on the line. We give thanks for our everyday heroes.
Throughout the Bible, God has a way of using ordinary folks to fulfill the divine mission for God’s purpose. He chooses the outcasts, the nobodies, those who wouldn’t be considered hero worthy by society. Mary Magdalene, Matthew the tax collector and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are just a few. And consider this: While Saul was a strong handsome warrior, God chose David, a teenager tending sheep in the field to be the greatest king Israel ever had. Peter, the author of today’s Scripture passage, had obvious flaws that would not make him the candidate to be the rock on which the church would be built, and yet he became one of the early leaders of the church.
Everyday heroes are everywhere. And one of them is now reading this Lenten devotional: you. Peter calls us to be disciplined and ready for action, meditating on the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory and the hope on grace that Jesus Christ will reveal. God is with us yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Lord, help us to draw from your everlasting strength and be the everyday heroes you desire us to be for the healing of your world. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Friday, March 19
What is reconciliation?
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. — 2 Corinthians 5:17–18
Within the New Testament, Paul presents the loving and deeply sacrificial act of God in order to bring reconciliation to us all. Reconciliation is one of those words that I come back to, look up the Greek and dig into the definition to fully comprehend the significance that this word truly holds through the sacrifice of Christ. Throughout Scripture, it is typically used when describing the relationship between God and humanity. The Greek word that Paul uses within the New Testament is katallage meaning “to rid enmity between two people who are at odds with one another.”
Reconciliation is so much more than being forgiven of our sins, but rather goes beyond forgiveness and restores what was once broken. Through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, by paying the price for our sins, we now have a changed relationship with God, and all hostility is removed. This is something that God has provided and nothing we can do, but something we can fully receive.
Our greatest representation of reconciliation is through the death of Jesus Christ and, as we are walking in this season of Lent, may we be reminded of this powerful restoration and the sacrifice it took. May we reflect upon the greatest example of love the world will ever know.
Almighty God, we do not deserve the sacrifice that you so lovingly gave to bring us reconciliation. You are the restorer of all things, who brings peace and hope in the darkest of circumstances. I pray that we continue to grow in our understanding of reconciliation and, through your example, continue the ministry of reconciliation that we are called to do. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Saturday, March 20
Forgiveness and renewal
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times. — Matthew 18:21–22
The response Jesus gives after Peter asks how many times we must forgive leads us to the importance of reconciliation in our lives. Our greatest example is Jesus, and through Jesus’ actions and words we are able to receive glimpses into how we, too, can approach reconciliation that results in greater peace and unity for all.
As we prepare our hearts and minds during this time of Lent, and reflect on our own lives and relationships, let us do so with this Scripture passage as a lens to look through. What might it look like to go beyond the act of forgiving, maybe even seven times, and move into the deep work of restoration? How can that help change our relationships, change our hearts, and to lead to a more whole community — one that seeks restitution for the wrongs and harm done in the past.
I pray that we will be a people who seek reconciliation, that we will take time to ask God where this reconciliation can be done within our relationships and that we may use Jesus as our guide.
Lord, strengthen us so we do not grow weary in the process of forgiveness and renewal. I pray that your Spirit guides us to work on the relationships we have so that we can find the wholeness and the peace that you so desire. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.