Julian Linnell, Minister of Missions at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, shares how the season of Lent inspired congregants at his church to care for the needs of others. Join us in this Lenten devotional on why Lent is best observed in community — locally and globally. We also invite you to walk in the footsteps of Jesus with us through our new Lenten devotional, “He Was There.”
A Lenten Devotional 80 Years in the Making
In the aftermath of World War II, a community of ordinary believers in Boston, Massachusetts, felt moved to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of displaced peoples in war-torn Europe.
Park Street Church decided to use Lent as an opportunity to fast and pray and to give financially to what was initially called the War Relief Commission. Other churches across the U.S. caught this vision and World Relief emerged from this groundswell of Christian concern.
The movement that is now World Relief started in community. This Lent, we hope you can experience something similar in connection with other believers locally and around the world.
Rooted in Compassion and Community
Throughout history, the traditions of Lent have been based in community. For the first Christians, Lent was an occasion to ready themselves for Holy Week and Easter through repentance and fasting. New believers were prepared and instructed for baptism. Believers who had been separated from their community due to notorious sins were offered the opportunity to be reconciled.
The entire fellowship of the church was impacted as the gospel was preached and lived out through repentance, forgiveness, faith and pardon. It would have been unthinkable to do this alone.
Likewise, there are contemporary reasons for why our journey through Lent is most impactful when undertaken as a community. It can be easy for many Christians today to focus exclusively on celebration and success. While Jesus’ victory over sin, death and Satan should always be central to believers, lament, suffering and injustice also mark our spiritual journey.
Through the Holy Spirit, believers in one place can learn, identify and empathize with believers in many other parts of the world, sharing in their suffering. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 26).
Walking Toward Christ Together Through Lent
Observed in local and global community, Lent can provide a corrective to a thin Christianity that isolates believers from complexities that are inherent to life on earth, as well as from the meaning of the cross.
As the Apostle Paul writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Lent brings us as a community closer to the sufferings of Jesus and to one another.
Tragically, the number of displaced peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East today has increased to historic proportions. But as we seek to respond compassionately and wisely, who can understand and comfort those who suffer better than Jesus himself?
When the body of Christ meditates together on Jesus’ journey of suffering and his persistent care for the brokenhearted and marginalized, we have the unique opportunity to enlarge our sense of solidarity, engagement and commitment to those who are the last, the least and the lost (Matthew 25:40) — those whom Jesus continually chose to be present among during his days on earth.
If you have not already decided to journey through this Lenten season with other believers, whether through your church, family or circle of friends, we encourage you to do so.
Will you humbly and expectantly enter this Lenten season with us?
To join Christians around the globe this Lent, sign-up for a free copy of our new Lenten devotional, “He Was There.”
Julian D. Linnell, PhD, is the Minister of Missions at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He also serves as a Center Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.