CEC Nigeria

Patriarch’s 2019 Lenten Message

Lenten Letter to the Church

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts.
And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

-Psalm 139.23.24

The Great Season of Lenten is a call for the whole Church to enter into a time of Spirit-led prayer, study, examination, giving, repentance, and renewal.  This season is corporate and individual.  That is, there is an element of “we have sinned” as well as “I have sinned.”  Whether it is the whole Church or each of us individually it is a good and healthy thing to ask the Holy Spirit to search us, know our hearts, know our thoughts, and try us. 

This corporate and individual examination occurs in light of the Gospel.  We enter the season knowing the Lord Holy Spirit is working in this season of examination. We know he wants to draw us into a deeper relationship with the Father and bringing to completion, by His love, mercy, and forgiveness, the good work that He began in us.  And, so we take the journey not in fear and trepidation, but in the full knowledge of the redemptive and reconciling work of the Cross and Resurrection. This is a journey that takes us to and through the Holy Passion and Paschal Mystery.  It is a journey that is lived out in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

We live and minister in a fractured, fallen, and broken world.  And, we are called not just to be a light, but light in the darkness.  We are a people chosen and appointed to be in the world.  Not only are we to be in the world, we are to GO into the world. The journey to and into Christ is certainly one that we await but it is also in the here and now.  We are engaged with the world by the great redemptive mission of God seeking and searching for that which is lost. 

In each of our nations, we face the reality of a battle.  The letter of Ephesians reminds us, it is a struggle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly realms.  This battle and the evil forces behind the battle manifests in abortion, infanticide, genocide, government corruption, the sex trade industry, the abuse and neglect of the poor and all the darkness that robs humanity of its dignity and brings about a culture of death.  As such, we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do warfare in prayer but also in bringing to bear ministry to women in crisis, strengthening families, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, being a voice the the innocent voiceless, and, like the Lord Jesus whom we serve, identifying ourselves with the victims of abuse and injustice in whatever form of predatory tyranny it manifests.  In Lent, we open ourselves to the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit not as means of entertaining the saved but of being healing and reconciliation for the lost and to the nations.

We also are aware that in this battle we will face persecution, the temptation to avoid that persecution for the sake of comfort, and the trial to give into the very evil that we are called upon to wage war.  We will, within ourselves, often times be called to fight off the weariness, discouragement, and frustrations of the war.  Yet, we understand in the midst of it all that the battle we wage is the Lord’s battle and He is forever with us, forever in us, forever for us, and forever working in us and through us. This continues as we participate in His cross and resurrection.  In Lent, we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit that will speak to us in those times of struggle.

In all the great wars of the 20th century, military commanders were aware that the troops needed times of rest and relaxation (leave) from the intensity of battle and war.  Without this time not only would the morale of the troops begin to waver, but there would be men and women who would break under the intense pressure of the heat of battle.  These times of relaxation were often described as retreats into revelry and endless parties, but in fact, for most soldiers, they would merely retreat into normality.  These moments were simply a hot shower, a good meal, a warm bed, and relief from the sounds, destruction, and death of war.

On the spiritual journey, our God is forming in us the image and likeness of Christ, restoring in us the fullness of the image of God in humanity. It is easy to get sidetracked or to give in to the various temptations.  Lent then is a good and holy season that is a welcome time of reflection.  The fire and wind of the Holy Spirit comes to us in love and builds in our hope.  The Holy Spirit in the season of Lent refreshes us with purifying waters reminding us of our cleansing in Baptism.  The Holy Spirit, during the season of Lent brings us over and over again to the Eucharist where we participate in the great events of cross, resurrection, ascension and the eschatological meal of eternity.  We come to where Christ Jesus is present under the elements of bread and wine.  It is a “leave” and “retreat” to be made new and refreshed.

Lent is a hopeful season because we enter knowing that in our desperation and in our powerlessness that the strength of God is made known.  We must never embrace or welcome the horrors of poverty, genocide, tyranny, infanticide, immorality, or any form of evil as normal or as a means to renewal.  Yet, the ancient journey reminds us that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” and if we unite our suffering with Christ, we share in the power of His resurrection.  As we draw close to Jesus (and He has already drawn close to us) the Holy Spirit pours into our heart a love that will not disappoint us.

We must allow His love to penetrate our hearts so that in the days of fasting and pray we come to genuine and real repentance of the fact that we have sinned against God and humanity.  It must be repentance that leads us to an amendment of our life as individuals and as a Church.  It is in turning to Christ Jesus that grace is there for us to be transformed and encounter His joy.

My prayer is that out of this season of Lent and the Paschal season, we will be renewed, refreshed and empowered to go about the work of Christ where ever we find ourselves.  In so many cases, the darkness is very dark around us.  The battle is fierce, and it is so easy to think that the enemy is winning.  But let me assure you, that the light is brighter and the enemy is one who is defeated and we are living in the victory won by Jesus.  So, I can pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me, to have a holy Lent.

Under His mercy,

+Craig, Patriarch

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