Guest commentary by Jordan B. Davis
This year, Lent has had a new and beautiful meaning in my life. For the first time since I was in college (8 years), I have a place to call “home” as I sit with God.
I never considered the importance of having a constant faith family during the Lenten season until this year. In fact, last year I spent the season going to visit one congregation after another to observe the many ways that others were spending time with God during this holy and sacred time. The year before that, I hadn’t paid much attention to the season and instead focused my energy on my work with Union Presbyterian Seminary, sharing more about the work of the seminary than thinking about my relationship with God. As part of my role, I had already compiled a Lenten devotion; I was done with Lent. This year, however, I have a place to call “home” as I wander my wilderness. Not quite halfway through the season, I already appreciate the presence of the congregation far more than I thought I would.
Lent can be a lonely time as we explore our personal wilderness. What I think is beautiful about the wilderness though is that when we look to Christ’s time in the wilderness, we see that he was never truly alone — a point that my senior pastor, Jody Welker, reminded the congregation of at the start of the season. Struggling in my own wilderness, this was a point that I personally needed to be reminded of at the time. As Christ travels the 40 days in the wilderness, he is accompanied by angels who take care of him (“He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.” Mark 1:13).
Last year and the years before, I met angels along the way — I have no doubt about that. However, they were brief encounters that lasted only a few hours at most. The angels offered warm handshakes and welcoming smiles. However, the lack of relationship made the angels feel much more like acquaintances than travel partners and friends. Outside of these brief encounters and reminders of God’s presence in these neighbors, I traveled alone. I prayed alone. I wept alone. I made my way to the cross alongside the crowd, but never really with the crowd.
This year, in an eerily similar personal life situation, I know who my angels are. This year, I have a “home” in my wilderness that I recognize and can enter without fear as I seek a safe place to lay my head at the end of a long day. The warm handshakes and welcoming smiles are accompanied by encouraging and loving hugs from those who haven’t just met me moments ago. My travel partners are learning about the stops along my journey as I learn about their own stops. My angels ask questions about my life, following up on conversations we previously had. I can ask questions about their life and journey. In a few weeks, we will gather around the same table we have gathered around all year as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. And we will not leave that table alone. We will go to the garden and pray together and make our way up the hill to the cross together. This year, I will both enter and leave the wilderness with the same travel partners and angels who I sit with throughout the journey. This year, I have a tangible reminder that I am not alone.
Only a few days into this sacred season, I sat with a group of moms who are each in their own wilderness of laundry, work, dirty diapers and nasty tissues. I love walking with these ladies and learn a great deal about life as I sit and listen to their discussions each week (I attend as the organizing pastor since I do not have children of my own). On that particular morning, I was distracted by my own personal wilderness when one mom looked at me and asked, with all of the love and sincerity in the world, “How are you doing, Jordan?” I wanted to cry when she asked, soaking in the reminder of the angels I was with. I couldn’t share with her the details of the many things running through my mind (ah, the struggle of being a pastor surrounded by congregant angels!), but just knowing of her loving presence and support reminded me who I was with: God’s angels who were taking care of me as I sought to take care of them.
Lent is our time to explore the wilderness of our own lives as we walk with Christ through his own wilderness. It is a time to walk together, even as we keep to ourselves, acting as God’s angels in the lives of one another.
Yes, it is possible to go through the season alone. It is incredibly interesting to go through the season with a variety of people, changing travel groups at each stop along the way. It was a true gift from God to be able to meet so many angels and learn from them as I traveled from congregation to congregation in previous years. All that being said, though, it is so much easier – and meaningful – to travel with those who you know and who know you, even if it has only been for a few months.
This year, there is so much that I do struggle with during the season of Lent. The words of the congregational prayers and hymns tug at my heart each week, echoing the silent prayers in my heart as they have almost every year. However this year there is a comfort in the wilderness as I look into the eyes of my angels — a congregation of God’s beautiful children who I have come to know in a deeper way and who I have shared some of my own life with over the last few months. The wilderness can be painful and terrifying at times, but with my angels taking care of me as they once took care of Christ, I can see the beauty around me. With my angels by my side, I see the hope in the wilderness and the life after death.
JORDAN B. DAVIS serves as the transitional associate pastor for youth and young adults at Kirk of Kildaire in Cary, North Carolina, and is the editor of Union Presbyterian Seminary’s “Congregational Corner.”