Believers prepare as Easter approaches
What do we value?
What do we believe?
How do we express those beliefs and values?
On Wednesday, March 9, most mainstream Christian churches will enter the season of Lent, the 40 days of the church year leading up to Easter.
Traditionally, Lent was seen a gloomy time of self-denial. Kids gave up bubble gum and fighting with their siblings. Adults fasted, either by choice or by compulsion; gave alms in the form of money or time; and attended extra church services.
The traditions of prayer, fasting and giving of alms remain the mainstays of the season. But pastors hope that those activities—and the season itself—will give their congregations a chance to deepen their faith.
In the early church, the 40 days of Lent were used to prepare people for their baptism and acceptance into the Christian community. That's still the case.
For the rest of the faithful, the season is an opportunity to "get us to reflect our faith and our life in Christ so that Easter has more meaning," said the Rev. Bruce Jones of First Presbyterian Church, Janesville.
So how does giving up bubble gum, fasting or donating money to charity help that along?
Part of it has to do with connecting it with what you believe.
The Rev. Jason Chesnut, youth leader at Central Christian Church, Edgerton, is encouraging young people at his church to participate in World Vision's 30 Hour Famine.
The fast, which has become an annual event for churches in Edgerton, is organized by the Rev. James Salimes, youth pastor at Fulton Church.
"It's bringing light to issues of hunger—especially children's hunger—all over the world," Chesnut said. "It's a very appropriate activity to do during Lent. It helps us focus inward. It helps us focus on Jesus' own sacrifice."
The fast "really makes an impact on our faith in more than just once sense," Chesnut said.
Young people connect with the suffering that children all over the world experience everyday. They're also reminded of what they believe and might be motivated to respond to God's love in other ways.
"Giving something up" could also mean giving up some of your time to pursue one of the many "spiritual disciplines."
"Some traditions give something up, others try to do something more," Jones said.
Those "spiritual disciplines" could include:
-- Being more intentional about devotional and scripture readings. Instead of squeezing such activities in wherever they fit, make them a priority.
-- Attend an additional service or Bible study. Midweek services give people the opportunity to worship in thoughtful silence, without the hurly burly rush of Sunday morning activities.
Nobody can boast of having a lot of free time, so just the act of committing to such services or Bible studies is a way to express your beliefs and values.
-- Extend or renew your commitment to help others.
"Think about what you do for your service to God," Jones explained. "Maybe you could try serving in a different way than you've done in the past."
That might mean stepping out of your comfort zone.
Jones encouraged people to search out a spiritual discipline that "gives new meaning to your faith."
"The big thing is that you can't make sense of the jump from Palm Sunday to Easter unless you make the journey through Maundy Friday and Good Friday," Jones said.
The same idea applies for the whole season of Lent.
"Being part of the journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter makes our whole faith richer," Jones said.
CHURCHES JOIN TOGETHER
Every Lent, a group of Janesville churches join together for mid-week services.
This year, pastors from Faith Lutheran, First Christian, First Congregational and First Presbyterian will be sharing preaching duties.
Services will be held at 12:15 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays throughout Lent. Early services will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 17 N. Jackson St. Evening services will be held at Faith Lutheran Church, 2116 Mineral Point Ave.
Shared services also will be held at 12:15 and 6:30 p.m. on Good Friday.
A soup lunch will be served after the service at First Presbyterian. A soup supper will be served at 5:30 p.m. at Faith Lutheran.
A free-will offering will be taken for the meals.
Meals will not be served on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.
Everyone is welcome.
The topic for the sermon series is "stories of our faith."
Service leaders include:
-- Ash Wednesday, March 9: The Rev. David Andert of Faith Lutheran.
-- March 16: The Rev. Wes Bixby of First Congregational.
-- March 23: The Rev. Dee Ann Woods, of First Christian.
-- March 30: The Rev. Anne Andert of Faith Lutheran.
-- April 6: The Rev. Bruce Jones, First Presbyterian.
-- April 13: The Rev. David Andert of Faith Lutheran.
-- Good Friday, April 22: The Rev. Wes Bixby of First Congregational.