Two weeks ago, I introduced my latest book in an adult education session at my church. I love seeing Christ Is for Us available to order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Cokesbury, and at my local Christian bookstore and coffee shop, House of James. It’s the first book I’ve written that comes in three formats: paperback, e-book, and large print, so you can take your pick.
Christ Is for Us began with an unexpected invitation from Abingdon Press in July 2015: Would I be interested in writing a lectionary-based Lent study for 2017? The tentative title had already been chosen. The format included reflections on the lectionary texts throughout Lent, with related discussion questions and group activities. The deadline for the manuscript would be April 15, 2016.
The email from editor Brian Sigmon asked me to “prayerfully consider writing this book,” and while I did pray and consider, I knew immediately that I wanted to say yes. I had finished another major project some months before and felt ready for something new, I’d long respected Abingdon Press as a publisher, and wow, it’s not every day I open my email to that kind of invitation!
Over the next months, I reviewed sample copies of previous lectionary-based studies in the same series, and asked a lot of questions about audience, expectations, and the publishing process. In August, the approval committee said yes to the proposed book, and in November I had a signed contract with a manuscript deadline of April 30.
To make that deadline, I knew that I would need some solid writing time. I wasn’t actually due for another sabbatical/study leave until late 2017, but fortunately, my church has always been supportive of my writing, and agreed that I could take part of that leave early, in March-April 2016. Thank you to Emmanuel Mennonite Church for making this book possible. Your support has been invaluable!
Over the next weeks, I should have some reviews to share (but only if they’re good!), and I’m thinking of leading a four-week Lenten series in March using the book, so if you’re in the Abbotsford area and interested, please let me know. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:
Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, spring comes early. It’s barely February when bright yellow crocuses provide the first splash of color in my garden, soon followed by velvet blue primulas and nodding bluebells. Green buds swell on winter-bare hydrangea stalks, the purple heather blooms, and by the start of Lent in March, in all of its abundant glory, spring has arrived!
With these signs of new life all around me, the Lenten emphasis on repentance, suffering, and death seems rather out of place, more appropriate for the grey skies of early January than these sunny days of spring. Yet the word Lent itself comes from an Old English word for “spring” that was related to the word for the month of March. Perhaps the Old English climate was drearily different from my time and space, more in keeping with Lent’s apparently gloomy pre-occupation with suffering and death.
Maybe. Or maybe I need to re-examine my initial response and look more closely at the meaning of Lent.
After all, the Lenten reflection on repentance, suffering, and death exists not for its own sake or purpose. Instead, Lent points beyond itself to Easter, points beyond itself to life and spiritual renewal. Confession and repentance hold the promise of forgiveness and the power to live a new life in the Spirit. The suffering of Jesus–so horribly wrong and undeserved—reveals the depth of his divine-yet-human compassion, courage, and character. His gruesome death led to glorious resurrection, and the risen Christ continues to offer resurrection and new life for us today. When I look at Lent this way, I realize that Lent is really all about life. For all of its focus on repentance, suffering, and death, Lent points forward to springtime for the soul.
At the same time, I’m grateful that instead of rushing headlong toward beauty, light, and life, Lent takes seriously the reality of our world. We need confession and repentance both for the things we have done and the things we have left undone, both for acts of injustice and for our silent complicity in them, both for pretending nothing is happening and hoping that whatever it is will go away. Human suffering continues, and you, me, and all creation still groan under the weight of sin, still long for deliverance and wholeness. Death remains the enemy. Shakespeare aside, the winter of our discontent is not yet made glorious summer. Lent is our springtime in between the already and the not yet.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What will you do to mark Lent this year? How have you experienced Christ Is for Us/Christ is for you?
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