Many of us begin the new year with resolutions and goals for ourselves, families or the community. I had my share of resolutions for 2023! Those personal goals were challenged when I got sick with COVID-19 early in January and felt a sense of defeat. As Director of ELCA World Hunger Networks and Engagement, I have also been conducting check-ins with World Hunger Chairs and leaders across the country. In the check ins, I heard stories from hunger leaders on their current impact, hopes, dreams and goals for 2023. Some of the stories, however, were related to suffering, poverty and the contextual challenges of eradicating hunger. These personal lived experiences of pain and hope recall how difficult it can be to bounce back from sickness or cope with poverty. Lent can be a way to acknowledge those experiences while also lifting our view to what God is doing next.
My own personal challenges and engaging in “heart work” with ELCA World Hunger remind me of what this Lent season means to me. What will it mean to you? Starting the year with various trials, I feel a sense of humility and the need to draw closer to God. I wonder how many of you feel the same way? Wherever you may be on your faith journey, Lent is an opportunity to reflect and recall our relationship with Christ. We are invited to 40 days of journeying with Jesus from the wilderness to Good Friday. The ELCA World Hunger 40 Days of Giving Lent Study Guide is one tool to guide you on the pilgrimage of Lent! To accompany the study guide, there are also a 40 Days of Giving Calendar and social media graphics.
In the midst of a hurting world
Our Program Director Rev. Dr. Ryan Cumming makes this invitation poignant and relevant for us with these words:
“These are not easy times for many of us. We know the challenges our world faces. Yet the season of Lent reminds us that God is not yet through with us or our world. Amid our own dependence on God, we know by faith that God is even now at work, drawing us toward the resurrection and restoration of the world. ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving invites us to be part of that work and to bear witness to it with partners, companions, friends and neighbors.”
Indeed, the invitation of Lent to dedicate this time to our faith life, worship, and connection to each other comes at a time of great challenges in the world. We mourn and grieve the devastation in parts of Turkey and Syria in the aftermath of the massive earthquakes. The images of orphans and hungry children and adults, people mourning their dead and first responders are overwhelming. We continue to struggle domestically with hunger for justice in the aftermath of alleged police brutality after the death of Tyre Nichols. We also remember our ELCA Lutheran pastors in their upcoming consultation in Puerto Rico to talk about the significance of the ecological harm, disaster and hunger in the aftermath of natural disasters in the Island.
We are invited to be curious and explore.
Session 1 of our Lent Study engages Psalm 32
“You are a hiding place for me.” —Psalm 32:7
Psalm 32 is a fitting way to begin the season of Lent. The season has most commonly been understood through the centuries as a time of fasting and preparation for Easter, a time when new Christians were often baptized. As early as the second century, theologian Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of a time of penance and prayer leading up to Holy Week when Christians and those seeking baptism should fast for a period of 40 days or 40 hours (the translation is unclear) while reflecting on their sin and their need for God’s grace.
The psalm for this week draws us into the emotional and spiritual experience of repentance and forgiveness. “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,” the psalmist writes, “whose sin is covered” (verse 1). The verses describe the internal turmoil with vivid and visceral language, such as “groaning” (verse 3). The “heavy” hand of God bears down on the psalmist, sapping their strength to keep going (verse 4). When they experience forgiveness, it is like being “surround[ed]” by gladness and finding a comforting, secure “hiding place” (verse 7).”
How does or how can your faith inform your encounters with people (even strangers) who are experiencing hunger and homelessness?
May this invitation into Lent 2023 be a reassurance that we are not alone!
All resources mentioned:
Go & Do News, a newsletter from ELCA World Hunger
ELCA World Hunger 40 Days of Giving Lent Study Guide