ENGAGING THE DIVINE: Doing church during Lent

Rev. Jo Popham
The Rev. Jo Popham

I share the position of rector with my husband at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea, the Episcopal Church in Destin, which is part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. Our presiding bishop calls us the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.

Like all leaders of the Jesus Movement we have struggled to engage the Divine this last year. We have learned new ways to “do” church even when we can only see one another’s eyes.

Recently we have been blessed to do in-person worship with social distancing wearing facemasks. We now can have organ and piano music and sometimes vocal music from soloists and our handbell choir. How we miss congregational singing, when we sing we pray twice. But we are not bereft of ways to engage God.

We live stream all our services on our Facebook page, Sundays at 10 a.m. our Healing Eucharist, Wednesdays at noon, and Compline every night at 8 p.m. Many worship contemporaneously with us and others pray later at their convenience.

Often believers in ancient times worshiped in secret for fear of their lives. We are free to worship without fear. We encourage everyone to stay connected as worshipping communities, by finding safe ways to stay connected with the Divine. Jesus told his own to “remember, I am with you always …” (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, we are never alone; we have access to God through Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit any time, all the time.

At this time of the church year during the season of Lent, we actively engage in spiritual disciplines to prepare ourselves and our families for Easter. We pray together in worship, but also privately. Some “give up” something as a fast to get closer to God: chocolate, television (or as our twin godsons do every year, screens of all sorts), meat, liquor, shopping online, etc.

But I suggest we take on something like praying more, reading a whole book of the Bible (and not the shortest – Philemon), saving pocket change for an outreach ministry, etc., Our oldest child donates an item of clothing or a pair of shoes each day in Lent. But whatever intentional fast we adopt, we should always remember that we are human, and

when we fall short of our intentions (and we will), that God loves us anyway.

So as we are poised to check out at the grocery and see temptation right there at the check out, in the form of our favorite chocolate indulgence, know that there was only one perfect person – our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’s 40 day fast and temptation by the devil and triumph over those temptations prepared him to live into his calling to show God’s love to the world – to reveal the Kingdom of God to us.

We too are tempted. We are tempted to reject God, to love the world more than God. Surely choosing a candy bar is not going to break our will to observe a holy Lent – surely not! Nevertheless, we all must choose. Jesus calls us to choose God.

The Rev. Jo Popham is rector at St. Andrews By-the-Sea in Destin.