Lent is coming to a close and the four holiest days of the Christian year are upon us- Maundy Thursday through Easter.
This Lent has been interesting for various reasons. Do you ever want to go deeper in your faith and understanding of your religion? That’s what happened to me this year and I wondered how to do that. First, I didn’t give anything physical up, but did give up complaining and worrying, which I hope to talk about in another post. I also participated in an event that the Women of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy put on every year- Lenten Suppers. Rob Brill of the Times Union interviewed me about the experience before the Suppers began last month, and I wanted to share what it was like for me.
The Women of St. Paul (WSP) invited Deacon Nancy Rosenblum to act as our guide for the multi week event, titled “Hope in A Time of Hopelessness,” which seems like the most fitting name for our times. In addition to the culinary skills of the WSP (great soup and bread every week!) the group plunges into meaningful conversation.
The structure of the Suppers this time was to discuss the virtues of faith, hope, and love and those who have witnessed to Christ. That framework of familiar topics became unpacked, lead on by Deacon Nancy’s readings, and her questions to us.
One thing I found interesting is the perspectives on faith, and faith in the world- is the world is improving or not? The past six months of political infighting seemed to have taken a toll on some of the members of the community, and one woman spoke of the lack of kindness she is seeing, the quickness to blame the poorest and most defenseless amongst us. Of course, this could have become a political discussion, and we did touch on that theme, but we were always guided back to the idea of our Christian responsibility to stay faithful, to communicate love, and to use the example of Christ’s sacrifice as a way to move through difficult times.
Those who have witnessed to Christ was another topic and we talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who resisted the great evil of the last century, Hitler and his Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was so brave- so full of courage. Another witness, and one who radiates joy, is Demond Tutu , who has been a major force of action and reconciliation in South Africa and around the world.
Mary Magdalene is the witness those of us who attended the Suppers were most drawn to however and I learned that, apart from her fascinating Biblical history as the woman Jesus removed demons from, and who then become His ardent follower, she is also called by the Catholic and Eastern churches the Apostle to the Apostles and is even more widely revered in the Orthodox Church.
The woman who was one of Christ’s most loyal disciples has been historically confused with other Marys of the Bible, but we know at least four things about Mary: that Jesus helped her and changed her life, that she followed Him as he taught, that she was there when He died. And the last thing we know is the most beautiful- that the Risen Christ appeared to her first of all his followers:
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a]into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.- New Revised Standard Version
Are there words more significant to a believer than “I have seen the Lord”? Can anything be more hopeful and remind us to not lose hope, that despite the many cares and worries the world contains, there is something greater than this?
I do feel sustained by the promises of Christianity, and I honestly think the world, despite the many unresolved issues we have, is getting better. There is less day to day violence now than at any point in human history, more people are being lifted out from poverty, and there is less disease as well. Those three things alone are quite significant. I think most people are living quietly, trying to do their best, and follow some path of hope and goodness. The path I follow, and learned to appreciate more this Lent, and particularly by coming together at these Lenten Suppers, always leads me back to the Christ that died for me, and lives for all us still.