Lent/The Great Fast: Week Four: Felllowship

 

The Fellowship of the Riing“But if we walk in the light as He himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son…” (1 John 1:7)

(Note: All of the Lectionary (Scripture readings for the week) come from the website of the Byzantine Catholic Church of America. If you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or other denomination the follows a Lectionary, please refer to your respective Diocese/Eparchy/Church bulletin for the readings of the week)

Here are the daily readings for the fourth week of the Lenten/Great Fast season:

Third Sunday of Great Lent: Veneration of the Holy Cross

(Fourth Sunday before Pascha / Easter)

Hebrews 4:14-5:6

Mark 8:34-9:1

Fourth Week of Great Lent

Monday

Sixth Hour:

Isaiah 14:24-32

Vespers:

Genesis 8:21-9:7

Proverbs 11:19-12:6

Tuesday

Isaiah 25:1-9

Genesis 9:8-17

Proverbs 12:8-22

Wednesday

Isaiah 26:21-27:9

Genesis 9:18-10:1

Proverbs 12:23-13:9

Thursday

Isaiah 28:14-22

Genesis 10:32-11:9

Proverbs 13:20-14:6

Friday

Isaiah 29:13-23

Genesis 12:1-7

Proverbs 14:15-26

Saturday
All Souls Saturday

Hebrews 6:9-12

1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 (All Souls)

Mark 7:31-37

John 5:24-30 (All Souls)

   Over the past  few weeks I’ve given an introduction about Lent (The Great Fast in Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities), its meaning, and what Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, and Protestants can do to practice the “simple gifts” of this reflective season. These are  Prayer, Contrition (penance), Fellowship, and Faith. We have already covered Prayer and Contrition, today I’d like to talk about Fellowship.

   First, I’d like to start out with what Fellowship is not. In Catholic and Non-Catholic circles, the term “fellowship” has been bandied about without careful understanding of what Christians mean by it. I have been to many Catholic and Non-Cathoic social meetings after a service where people gather around good food, talk , tell stories, laugh, and so on. Don’t get me wrong. All of these things are all good and are just a part of what a fellowship stands for.

   But Just.

   In the late thirteenth century, fellowships had the sense of “comradeship” (from a derivation of Middle French, “to share a room”). I’m thinking of the kind of fellowship found in a fraternity of soldiers coming home from war, a “band of brothers” as the late Stephen Ambrose termed it. The kind of bond unifying those with such an intimacy.

   I’m thinking of the kind of Fellowship of those at war.

   Christian Fellowship is less like a joviality and more like a bond of people who know what we face in the world. What our band of brothers and sisters in Christ looks like is a people faced with a spiritual warfare found in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

   “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph.6:12)

   If it sounds like a war is going on with us Christians, it is. In fact, in the verses thirteen to seventeen of Ephesians, we find the famous, “armor of God” analogy, and for good reason. The early Christians of St. Paul’s time were a hunted people (like some are still in parts of the world today).

   In one sense, the Lenten journey is on a “war time footing”. This is the time when Jesus Christ fights the “authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Through His sacrifice on the Cross, He exemplifies what He teaches in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I have met many a service man who can relate to this. Especially veterans of wars.

   As Christians, we wage a spiritual war. It is exemplified in the Lenten season.  I’m reminded of the scene in the Christian classic ‘The Lord of the Rings’ where Gimli the dwarf tries to destroy the ring of power which Frodo has brought from the Shire with a mighty blow of his ax, only to be violently thrown to the ground. The forces of evil are formidable indeed! It is then agreed that the little Hobbit Frodo cannot carry the burden alone, and so, Man, Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, and even an angelic being as Gandalf bond themselves to Frodo, while Elrond, the king of the Elves announces almost in benediction the “fellowship of the ring”. We are no less bonded to each other and the Cross. This instrument of torture, is now the standard (as in a flag a leading rider brings to battle) we will hold on high as a sign of victory at the end of our Lenten journey.

   Perhaps too, J.R.R. Tolkien, the writer, was thinking of his own experiences as a soldier during World War I while writing this part of the novel. What were his band of brothers during this terrible time in history? It is significant that Christians like the Catholic Tolkien, understand the immense relevance of this war we face, even though much of the world is either unaware,  unconcerned, or actively participating in the undoing of the world. Lent and Holy Week puts this perspective up front and center.

   Like knights, we too come to the front of the line as standard bearers. But we also come as a family of God, we call the “body of Christ”.  So, not only are we battling in spiritual warfare, but we are also the adopted children of the King. We are, princes and princesses of the Kingdom of God.  We are part of a royal family.

   Whether you do weekly fellowships or have fellowships after church services, I would hope that your gatherings consist of more than just talking about the game you are about to watch at home in the next few hours. I hope that you will be engaged and invest in your fellow brothers and sisters, strengthening each other in the witness of faith and in prayer. I have seen communities who openly pray for others and those who don’t seem to recognize each other, to quote a cliché, “like passing ships“.  I can pray for someone publicly or I can do so privately, at the person’s request. I am not gun shy either way. But I don’t want, in the words of the Marines, “leave someone behind”.

   And we should be doing this, especially during the Lenten season. Because, while we may be very weary of the long march to Holy Week, it will be there, at Good Friday, where we will join our battle to the Cross of Christ, and through this horrific torture device, exclaim our victory, once and for all, against the darkness that used it against us, through the triumph of Christ’s rising from the dead at Easter (Pascha).

   So, to all my Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical, Non-Denominational, and Protestant friends, a challenge: Instead of offering a brother or sister in Christ some coffee, how about giving them in fellowship with them Living Water that will get them through this week of Lent and beyond?

   God bless you all as well continue our journey to Holy Week.


 

 

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