I don’t know what makes an exciting day for you. Accomplishing an important task, coffee and conversation with a good friend, perhaps. Those often really “make my day.”
But, I had been looking forward to doing Lent. Ruminating about LIFE. Jesus’ life. And my life.
I have a handful of dear friends who have made up a little company of friends who loved to gather early morning, mid-week, at a local restaurant during the seasons of Advent and Lent, to be together, to have a light breakfast of a roll and coffee, to greet each other with news of their lives, to read the Bible, hear the life and love stories of Jesus in His ministry, pray for each other, and find the presence of the Spirit among them in real and personal ways.
This went on for a decade or two. But suddenly, in this year of pandemic, it wasn’t so simple. An enemy was abroad in the form of a hostile virus. We could only meet wearing masks and keeping a 6-foot social distance from each other.
For a while we discontinued. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany came and went. Our churches were closed with only high-tech “zoom” contact. It was too hard. We missed church. Social and political change overtook whole cities. And peaceful protests turned to riots. Stores were burned. Police precinct stations were burned. Calls were raised to “defund the police.” The news was about violence. About racial tensions. About America as a white racist society.
Churches tried to respond. To have discussions of race and racism. We were called to “cancel culture.” To wipe out precious traditions. There was anger by church leaders, and by protesting responders. Many felt grief about their churches, their communities, their own lives.
With COVID vaccines being given to thousands, it seemed possible we could try and find each other again.
We found the Hilltop would take us again for four early Thursday mornings of March, heading straight for Holy Week and Easter.
We explored tentatively trying again to gather as a Lenten discipline. Ten or fifteen said they’d be game. They would welcome an abbreviated Lenten gathering at dawn, facemasks, social distancing, and all. To those who didn’t want to take the risk, we would send by email the presentation notes all written out, after each of the four gatherings, so we could make our Lenten Pilgrimage together.
This week the day came – March 4th – for our first gathering. A woman who lived in our part of the city volunteered to pick me up at 6:30 am and so she did. We drove through dark streets at first light, talking of many things.
As we arrived at the restaurant, other cars were already pulling in. As 7:00 am approached we walked toward the door, not yet opened. But waiting there to hold the door was a dear friend, one of the cities’ most distinguished dermatologists. He had never been before. But as the sun rose, he was there to be part of our little company.
His wife was in the gathering crowd, as were others, determined to share this early morning experience with their fellow Christians.
Soon, 7:00 came. The door opened. And amid early greetings and introductions, the comrades of the “Dawn Patrol” poured into the restaurant to gather by the fireside on the inside patio.
A few tables were moved so we could see and hear each other as we came together, and read, and prayed together. Cheerily a group of first-timers helped with arrangements, found seats, met others they didn’t know – all the while everybody talking excitedly.
I found my place, greeted those dear Christian friends, and welcomed them all to this time of friendship and faith together.
There were more than 10 or 15. By final count our crowd was 26 – all glad to be there, sensing they would not be alone, but very much in the presence of the Lord Who had invited them.
We went round the room, one man remembering the March day when he with his family and a boatload of fellow Latvians, fresh from their refugee camp in Berchtesgaten, Germany, had steamed into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Another, just in from Arizona told how this gathering had so nurtured her, that she had come all that way for the first gathering. Her grown daughter was there, too.
My own “boss,” President Jim Olson of the Pilgrim Center, had driven across two cities to come. Members of my first Confirmation class were there – my friends of over 50 years. A flight attendant just in from far places spread her lighted smile across the room, saying what this meant to her. One man told of the stroke he’d suffered and his children who called 911 and got him to the hospital in time to forestall the effects of a stroke. He praised the Lord.
And so, on it went. We talked of Jesus’ journey of three years, ministry to every sort of person with a need on His way to the climax of His life on earth at Golgotha and THE CROSS outside Jerusalem.
I found trying to imagine Jesus’ life and the many confrontations with Pharisees and other leaders of the church, as He followed the instincts and insights of the love which God had given Him, breaking through to meet the deepest needs of the broken world around Him. It was an exciting journey for me among these friends who needed to see the absolute claim of Jesus’ life of courage for each of them.
I felt the same spirit of God’s love reaching out to all of us “in that very room” as we talked and confessed the love of Jesus we were each feeling.
Well! - It “made my day.” It lifted my spirit. It gave me the restored sense of purpose for my own life as I was privileged to be among these brothers and sisters of faith in the single most important thing in my life in these days of its final stage.
Here was my own reason for living writ large for me. It made the whole day one of exhilaration and exultation in being blessed by Christ, Lord of my life. And, it has continued in the days since. A way to live. A recognized gift of God – seen so clearly in the lives of these lifetime friends who were finding their own lifetime call as we were privileged to walk together with the One Who gave His life, to be our Lord.
Wonder. And privilege. Along the trail of Jesus’ own walk to the Cross.
Bless you all.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES