Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lent began this past Wednesday. Today is the first Sunday in the Lenten series, “Living the Baptismal Calling.” Today’s focus is on the first baptismal question: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
Next Sunday, remember to “spring ahead!” The link in the calendar below is to a Time Change Song by my former colleague, Dean McIntyre. You might have your choir or ensemble sing to remind folks either live (in worship this week) or via audio recording and social media during the week ahead.
This year marks the first time we observe what we now call “UMCOR Sunday.” The former designation was One Great Hour of Sharing. The title was changed by General Conference in 2016 to reflect that all funds raised for this day in United Methodist churches are specifically to offset the administrative costs of the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
For Your Planning Team: Living Our Baptismal Calling
In This Series
Lent began this past week with Ash Wednesday. Last Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, you began your turn toward Lent and previewed this season and series. We’ve spent the Season after Epiphany inviting others to become introduced to the work and teaching of Jesus and to consider whether they wish to join us as disciples of his way. For those who have said yes to that invitation, Lent is the time of intensive formation to help get them started on his way.
The questions of the baptismal covenant have, for centuries, been the guiding questions for the season of Lent. They are only, in part, questions about doctrine or concepts. They are primarily practical questions about how, concretely, we will live as disciples of Jesus where we are. What are our allegiances? Will we act on those allegiances? How will we work for good and resist evil? Whom will we trust as our protector and deliverer? How will we, in real terms, live in union with all kinds of people from all kinds of places? How will we be faithful to and for one another? How will we support one another in all kinds of circumstances? And then, finally, what is the nature and basic story of the God into whose hands we place our lives and the life of the world?
These are the questions that guide us through these weeks. These are the questions not only for what we will do each week in worship, but also for intentional formation groups that may meet in person or online before the following Sunday each week and that may continue through Easter Season. These formation groups are especially important for people whom you have recently welcomed through your evangelism efforts during the Season after Pentecost. But strongly consider inviting other groups for people who are in the process of preparing for confirmation, as well as for longer term church members or others who seek a deeper grounding in the practices of their faith. We’ll provide specific guidance for these groups each week in our Formation Groups resources.
Along with Formation Groups for basic formation in the faith, we are also proposing that you consider creating another kind of formational experience— what we might call a formational event— during this season, one that focuses on what our colleague Scott Hughes calls “Courageous Conversations.” The Courageous Conversations event each week should not be seen as displacing or replacing the work of other formation groups, but rather as supplementing and underscoring what it means for us to live “in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.” Given the persistence of deep divisions in our nation, divisions that are replicated within our churches and communities as United Methodists, we believe these weekly Courageous Conversation events offer an opportunity for mutual listening, care, and healing that are critical for our future as a denomination, yes, but more importantly critical for the future of Christian witness wherever our churches are across this country.
Facing East for Worship, and West for Acts of Renunciation
For many centuries, since the earliest times of which we have record, Christians have generally built their worship spaces so that the Lord’s Table was on the east end of the worship space. This orientation reflects the practice of early Christians at baptism. Apostolic Tradition (ca. 215) is the first (but not the last!) early Christian document to describe how those being baptized on Easter Sunday morning at sunrise would be asked the first baptismal question (“Do you renounce Satan and all his works” in that document) as they were facing west, toward the darkness. They would then turn (answering the question about repentance with a literal turn) toward the east, toward the rising sun, to answer the question about giving their full allegiance to Christ as Savior and Lord, and for the rest of the baptismal ritual. Likewise, they would enter the baptistery or stream from the west, be baptized, and emerge on the east to be clothed in new baptismal garments.
In more recent years, this physical orientation of worship space toward the rising sun has not always been observed as it was in years past. Still, we can speak of the space where the Lord’s Table is placed as “liturgical east” and thus the “back” of the worship space as “liturgical west.”
The biblical journey through this season starts today as it does in each of the three years of the lectionary, with the temptation of Jesus and the example he gives us of our very first move toward discipleship. We begin by renouncing allegiances to spiritual forces of wickedness.
We enact renunciation in this service today four times. We do it at the beginning, facing “liturgical west” (the back of your worship space), in response to the baptismal question, and adding to it language from the First General Rule. (We will use both the baptismal questions and the General Rules in this way these first three Sundays in Lent).
We do it again as a response to the sermon, as we invite people to write down and share with one other person the concrete acts of renunciation, rejection of evil powers, and repentance they will seek to undertake during the coming week. We do it a third time in the shape of our intercessions. And we do it a fourth time in our pledges in the act of sending forth.
Worship today thus provides a solid ground for the work of the week to come — continuing to renounce, reject, and repent. And there are are two kinds of opportunities we’re suggesting for follow up on this. There is a person-to-person check in with the individual with whom each person shared his or her card. And there is a formation group meeting midweek or later to check in and strengthen others in this journey. See the formation GROUPS section for more information on this week’s meeting.
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Germany, France (Elections in France begin April 23; elections in Germany begin between August 27)