When I was a little girl, I was very interested in the difference between the crosses that hung in my best friend’s church and my own. Why, I wondered, did her cross have on it a man – Jesus—looking down on us during worship, while my cross was empty? Our parents and our Sunday school teachers explained to us the difference, (one focusing on the crucifixion and one the resurrection) and my friend and I spent many conversations discussing which cross was the “best.” As I grew, however, I began to realize the full beauty of each. The emphasis on Jesus’ death on the cross reminds us that we all suffer and die, and that Jesus can show us how to do so with courage and grace. The emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection helps us to remember that God has promised us much more than the lives we live today. Two different crosses, both telling a truth.
Later on I learned that the shape of the cross is an almost perfect representation of what God asks of us: the horizontal line speaks to the call to love those all around us, while the vertical line calls us into relationship with God. We need them both– loving the world, and loving our God. Immanence and Transcendence.
For many Christians, the cross is an old friend. It is a symbol of our faith and a reminder of our history. Yet the cross evokes a myriad of feelings in people. For some, it is too stark an image, one that focuses too closely on death or punishment. Others feel that it can be used to exclude people of other traditions, and so they choose not to wear or display it. Still, throughout the history of Christianity, the presence of the cross has been undeniable in shaping our theologies and spiritual lives.
What does the cross mean to you? Do you have a special cross or a special memory that you turn to when you need grounding in your faith? I hope you will join us for a morning of reflection this coming Saturday (more info on next page), as we encounter the cross in new ways, through art and prayer. Rev. Susan Kemper, retired United Methodist pastor and Spiritual Director, will be leading us. We will touch on this very rich topic together, as we open our hearts once more to the beauty and the meaning of the cross.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, these next six weeks have been about immersing ourselves in the life story of Jesus, and as we do that, examining the story of our own lives. The scriptures shared in churches during this time typically emphasize the days of Jesus’ ministry, leading up to his death and culminating in his resurrection.
As Christians, this is the central story of our faith. How did Jesus live? What did he teach? How did he handle suffering? – betrayal – disappointment? What did his final days show us about forgiveness and acceptance? How can we draw on those stories as we live our lives, seeking to love as fully as possible?
This Lent, I invite you to immerse yourself as much as you can in this story. In addition to our regular worship services, there are several meaningful ways to experience this season here at First Church.
*We will be sharing a morning “mini-retreat” with Rev. Susan Kemper on February 28th, as she leads us through a new look at what the Cross means to our spirituality. (see page 6 of the Newsletter)
*There are Lenten devotional booklets available to you again this year, containing short daily readings for each of the next 40 days written by our much loved UCC Writers group.
*Finally, we will be participating in a shared Lenten series with several UCC churches during the month of March, as every Wednesday we will gather at one of the host churches for a simple service and shared supper. (see page 8)
Instead of giving something up for Lent, I hope you will choose one or more of these things to add into your life for the next six
weeks. It’s a short time, really. But it is an opportunity to
connect more deeply with the story that grounds us all. Jesus’s story. Our story. I look forward to sharing that with you this Lent – the next six weeks.
“Lent… is something we do in response to God’s love, to bring about change within ourselves. Think of it this way. If your garage is full of clutter, and you’ve just bought a shiny new Prius and you want to use the garage for its intended purpose (to shelter your car rather than your junk), then you have a job to do. You need to clean out the garage. Likewise, Lent is a time when we try to clean out the clutter in our hearts and minds and souls, to prepare ourselves for the joyful gift of new life, freely given to us through the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.”
Last week, we reflected on… “Soon” is a placeholder. “Now” is a life. Life is a gift. May we all be blessed to live our lives as fully and as deeply as we can, for as long as we can. Starting now.
This week, we share part two (below) from ucc.org.
Photo credit Sue B. Donnelly; ucc.org
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Some days I see the world through the prison bars of my own time. When has the beauty or tragedy of world news or the tender daily life of my next-door neighbor been dimly perceived and seen only through the stark clock of my obligations?
God, give me a time for the babies and a time for those who are dying, a time for the gardeners and a time for the green-activists, a time for boycotts and a time for negotiations. I have my own weeping and laughing times down pat – open my heart to the dancing, embracing, losing, silence time of others close to me and far away. Amen.
I always think I’m going to have time for the important things – soon. Maybe not now, because I’m busy at work or have chores to do, but soon. Soon I will contact that friend I’ve lost track of. Soon I will make that phone call or write that thank you note. Soon I will reconnect with my spirit and become more involved with my community. Soon.
If I have learned one thing in the past few years, it is that if I want to be brave or faithful or more loving, I need to do it now. Soon might never come. The season for my being the person I want to be is here; the time for living the life I want to live is now.
I recently read a short reflection that touches on this. I am sharing it with you, below. I hope as you read it you reflect on the person and life you most want for yourself, and decide to go for it. If you want community, make time to be part of it. Show up. Reach out. If you want to deepen your faith, pray and read and listen to words that inspire you. If you want to be closer to your family or connect with your neighbors or help a friend or find out about an issue, make the time.
“Soon” is a placeholder. “Now” is a life. Life is a gift. May we all be blessed to live our lives as fully and as deeply as we can, for as long as we can.
In 2000, the film director Joe De Francesco began an audacious project. He volunteered to work with prisoners in San Quentin who were interested in putting on a play. It would be a play for the other prisoners and a few invited guests, and it would require memorizing lines and becoming familiar with old fashioned language, as well as learning all the things that go into doing a theatrical production. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be to work with whoever else decided to show up, no matter how you felt about him.
Eventually nine prisoners, all either murderers or career felons, made the commitment to prepare the play “John Brown’s Body”, and they spent over three years together. Their experience changed them, as they grappled with issues of race and injustice and their own ability to confront the choices and circumstances of their lives.
Joe De Francesco did a documentary about the process and it was released to the public last year. I was able to see it in May, with others of the Northern California/Nevada Conference at our Annual Gathering, and I was very moved by the production. As gritty and dark as prisons are, this is a film about healing and redemption in the midst of all of that. It is a film about people who dig deep and offer much, and watching it touched the spirits and hearts of everyone in the audience.
We are privileged to be sharing that film with our community on Saturday evening, February 7th. It is part of our initiative to use our resources and facilities to foster discussions and learning about the difficult issues of our world, such as the racial divisions in our society and the injustice many young men of color face at the hands of our legal system. The director and at least one of the actors will be with us that evening, and we will have the opportunity to watch and hear and share in conversation with them.
You are invited to be part of this conversation and to bring friends and family, as well. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors– and then spent the rest of his ministry radicallyexpanding our understanding of who our “neighbor” really is. Part of loving our neighbors is learning from the experiences of people whose lives are very different from ours—and yet who share with us a common humanity and a desire for a more loving world.
“John Brown’s Body” is one story of how different people from different walks of life embodied that desire as they built relationships with one another.
Come to be inspired.
Come to be stretched in your understanding.
Come to be drawn more deeply into the Beloved Community of God.
We are so blessed to have the space and the resources to show this remarkable film.