The Season of Lent calls us to 40 days of reflection and repentance in preparation for baptism on Easter. Even though, in many of our modern churches, Easter Sunday may not be a day in which we schedule baptisms, making the connections between life and death in terms of our baptismal covenant remains a central focus for preaching through the season of Lent. In the waters of baptism, we die to ourselves and rise in new life with Jesus Christ. The prayer of Thanksgiving over the water in our Baptismal Covenant liturgy provides for some powerful biblical images: the deliverance of the children of Israel from death to new life through the flood and through the Red Sea; the passage of Jesus through the waters of a womb, baptism by John, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit; calling the disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection; the washing away of sin; dying and being raised with Christ. Baptism is fundamentally about life and death.
Lent calls us to reflect upon our lives through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and works of charity and service. We are to use this time to prepare for the glory of Easter by contemplating the meaning and quality of our lives.
On Ash Wednesday, we ask our congregations to enter into this this period of reflection by confronting their own mortality and their need to repent before God within the community of faith. Life is so brief. In the blink of an eye, it is over. What are our sins? Certainly some are personal, but many are COMMUNAL. How we live affects the way other people in the world live. We are all connected in this world neighborhood that we share. What are our true treasures? How do our lifestyles reflect our true priorities, that which is deepest in our hearts?
The Preaching Helps for February 10 included a reference to the Calvin and Hobbes' notion of transmogrification: being changed from one form into another. Perhaps one way to approach the season of Lent is to ask how our congregations, as individual persons and as communities, might be in need of deep transformation, or even transmogrification. What in our lives needs to be changed; and how, by the grace of God, can we be transformed? Into what are we to be transformed?
Whether through the lectionary or through a carefully planned and thoughtful sermon series, worship during the season of Lent should call disciples of Jesus Christ to reflect upon the meaning of our baptismal covenant.
Topical Preaching in Lent
A topical series for the season of Lent could be shaped around Baptismal Covenant A, found on pages 88-92 of the United Methodist Book of Worship. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the opening topic could focus on renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejecting the evil powers of this world, and repenting of sin. Why are these questions asked as part of our baptismal covenant? What is their historic grounding? What do they mean? How do parents respond to this question on behalf of their infants? How does this foundation relate to a United Methodist understanding of baptism? (See By Water and the Spirit for a refresher). How does this question provide a nice focus for the Ash Wednesday call to observe a Holy Lent: "by self examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word."
The series could then continue over the next five weeks by exploring the sections of the covenant through the remaining Sundays in the season of Lent.
For example, on the first Sunday in Lent, preach about the freedom and power God gives God's people to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
On the second Sunday in Lent, explore what it means to confess Jesus Christ as your Savior.
On the third Sunday in Lent, talk about the responsibility of others -- parents, sponsors, mentors, and church members -- to take seriously their role in the covenant and the continuing need to reaffirm their own baptismal covenant.
On the fourth Sunday in Lent, discuss the Apostles' Creed and its historical and theological role in our baptismal faith.
On the fifth Sunday in Lent, consider the welcome that states "Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God's new creation and made to share in Christ's royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus."
How does reflecting upon our baptismal covenant during the season of Lent help to prepare us for the Easter proclamation? How are we transformed by the journey?