Lenten Study: Week 4
At St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church’s Lunchtime Ministry in Hoboken, N.J., about 65 people each day come through the doors for a warm meal, extra clothing, a listening ear and a brief respite from the streets many live on each day.
On Mondays, volunteers provide free haircuts. On Wednesdays, Chef Bill makes special “bill-ritos” from scratch. Every day, visitors are welcomed like honored guests, treated with the respect and hospitality that can be hard to find when you are experiencing homelessness.
Hoboken is a long way from Calvary. But for people who face the threats of homelessness, hunger and poverty, the shadow of the cross looms large. The jeers of the crowd that greeted Christ on that lonely hill are echoed in the derision and dismissal so many of us and our neighbors face when living in shelters, in cars or out on the street. The threat of a legal and political system tilted against Christ is felt still today, as laws that criminalize poverty and homelessness make the challenges our neighbors face seem almost insurmountable.
It’s hard to wrap our heads around crucifixion today, but it’s not hard to see the many ways people are crucified by public opinion, policy, economic injustice and marginalization every day in communities around the world. For some, it is the little “deaths” of derision and stigma. For others, it is the very real death from malnutrition, disease or violence.
In either case, the cross is not just an allegory or historical symbol. The cross is a present reality – as death-dealing now as it was 2,000 years ago.
In Lent, we journey with Christ to the foot of the cross, deepening each step with the disciplines of Lent – repentance that confesses our own role in his death, prayer and fasting that pleads for God’s mercy, sacrificial giving that recalls Christ’s own sacrifice for us, and works of love that bear a pale reflection of the love God showed us in our need.
But the disciplines of Lent are utterly empty if, in our journey to the cross of Christ, we ignore the crosses that dot the landscape of our communities today. The journey to Calvary with Christ is the journey to the cross wherever it is found, including within our own communities and communities around the world.
Part of this journey means entering into the stories of our neighbors, a ministry the volunteers and staff at St. Matthew Trinity know well. “Whatever your story is,” says Stanley Enzweiler, the program manager, “we will welcome you.” Some of these stories are of bad luck. Others are of bad decisions. But at the Lunchtime Ministry, guests are always welcome. Here, their physical and social needs are met. A warm meal – served with dignity. A new pair of socks or warm winter clothes – and someone to listen. A haircut – and respect. In each case, service goes beyond meeting a need to encountering a neighbor, sharing their story and walking with them through the challenges they face.
The journey also means bearing witness to the forgiveness and love that point beyond the cross to the promise of grace, mercy and hope that we have in Christ. In faith, we are called not just to walk with one another toward the cross but to bear witness to the future God has in store for our world, a future in which all will be welcome and all shall be fed. Our Lenten journey carries us to the cross – and beyond it, to the empty tomb, the resurrection and the fullness of the future reign of God.
This doesn’t always happen in big ways. Sometimes, it happens in the everyday ways we act toward our neighbors. At St. Matthew Trinity’s Lunchtime Ministry, it’s shown each time a guest is welcomed – or welcomed back. “Even if you break the rules at Lunchtime Ministry and have to leave our community for a few days, we will always welcome you back,” Stanley says. “Everyone messes up a time or two, but no one is beyond forgiveness. We are one lifeline that never goes away.”
Christ’s journey to the cross reminds us of the many crosses in our own midst, threats to life, safety and well-being that we and our neighbors face each day. But it also reminds us of what is to come – life abundant, here and now as God works to reconcile and heal our communities, and in the future fullness of God’s reign.
There are four disciplines, or spiritual practices, that guide our time during Lent. Use the questions and prompts below to reflect on the Lenten disciplines: repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving, and works of love.
How are people who experience homelessness, poverty or hunger treated in our community? How might we ensure that their dignity and safety are protected?
PRAYER AND FASTING
This week, remember in prayer neighbors facing homelessness and hunger and the ministries that accompany them.
Take time this week to reflect on your commitment to support the ministry of ELCA World Hunger this Lent. In what ways might your gifts provide hope to neighbors in need?
WORKS OF LOVE
How have other people helped you during challenging times? How might you pay that forward this week by helping others in need?