(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) As I prepare for the annual session of making pastoral appointments for our Alabama-West Florida Conference, I am reminded of how this appointment making season may allow our anxiety and fear to increase in the face of an uncertain future. Like so many others, I, too, want to hear the angelic words: “Fear not.” I want to recall God’s loving gift of the One who can deliver me from all anxiety and fear. The hymns and praise of Christmas have all too quickly faded into the background of this Lenten season. Yet, was it not just a few weeks ago that choirs, children, and congregations were singing:
“God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.”
Comfort and Joy. This is precisely what I’ve needed during these difficult days of Lent. I suspect many of us have experienced the uneasiness, fear, and angst of life during this penitential season. How easy it is to have our hope-filled focus shifted by our worldly realities: financial strain within our churches, increasing demands upon our personal time, deep concern for our struggling colleagues, direct billing for clergy benefits, our national financial crisis, and the uncertainty of our own personal future.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how our worries and care for the world choke out the living Word within us. We pray earnestly for the bread we need, to be saved from times of trial and delivered from evil. So, comfort and joy seem like an appropriate gift as we serve the present age.
God has ordained natural seasons for our lives reflected in the annual cycle of the Christian year. This translates into our ministry and creates a rhythm that heightens our celebration of Easter - the triumph of God over evil; hope over fear; and life over death. Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied and expressed our deepest hope: “This was the oath God swore to our father, Abraham, to deliver us from the hands of our enemies, serve him without fear, to be seen by God as holy and righteous all the days of our lives.” Comfort.
Although this Lenten season has been difficult for many of us, it is the perfect prelude to God’s mighty act in Jesus Christ. We are working through this difficult season of passion and suffering only to be surprised and renewed by the resurrection. Only through the process of journeying through Lent are we able to most fully appreciate Easter. Charles Wesley captured our joy with these words we anticipate singing:
“Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens and earth reply, Alleluia!”
Comfort AND Joy. May it be so. Amen.