This first Sunday in Lent is quite the roller coaster ride, which is honestly quite typical of Year B in the lectionary cycle. Throughout Year B, we live in the Gospel of Mark, which is jam-packed with action from open to close. Mark often gives us very little narrative space to sit and consider what is happening before jumping to the next thing, which can make worship planning challenging. This week, in the space of seven verses, we go from hearing God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism to the wilderness where Jesus is tempted by Satan to Jesus beginning his earthly ministry. What do we focus on? How do we help our people enter into this? There’s so much and also so little here to hang our hat on as we plan worship.
Perhaps the best path forward is to lean into the roller coaster. Instead of focusing on the joy of Jesus’ baptism or the struggle of the wilderness or the proclamation that the kingdom of God is near, do it all. Since Mark gives us very little commentary on the story, we have to feel our way through the narrative. Speak to the moments God seems near and the moments God seems far away. Welcome all the emotions and experiences that people carry with them into worship. Normalize the fact that both joy and struggle are part of our journey with God. Invite a congregant to share a testimony of the way God showed up in a neighbor who tended and supported him/her/them during a difficult time. Infuse the prayers of the people with opportunities to declare the nearness of God’s kingdom in times of peace and blessing and in the wilderness seasons. Send the congregation out with a blessing and a charge to discover the inbreaking of God’s good news in their homes, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.
When preparing the space, consider how to place representations of baptism next to representations of wilderness. Perhaps you can place the font in a prominent position along with stones or foliage local to your area. You might want to build on what you already did on Ash Wednesday by adding in representations of water or a depiction of a dove. By visually and/or aurally referencing Ash Wednesday, we remind the congregation of our commitment to live into our frail beauty as creatures made in the image of God. How might that reorientation color our journey with Jesus from baptism to wilderness to proclamation? How might ashes reflect the work of the wilderness in our Lenten journey, even as they prepare us to receive and follow the good news that God’s kingdom has come near? You could also play with light and shadow in the space, including in your graphics. Whatever you decide, find ways for the physical space to depict the tension in Mark, the highs and lows out of which Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is near. Whatever you do, think about how you can marry representations of this tension with the symbols and art that are familiar to your context and in your congregation as reminders that God’s presence is constant and faithful through every season of our lives.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.