Since this season of Lent prompts us and challenges us to conduct self-examination and spiritual reflections, I had to admit to myself that I never realized how important it is to my spirit to have the freedom and ability to congregate with my church folk. Although we constantly remind ourselves that “I am the Church,” and that “the Church is within my spirit,” we are more energized when in congregation and I must say, I cannot wait to bring the Good News to the people. Because I have not been able to greet my church folk with open arm hugs, give them air kisses, or eat brownies with the children, my spirit is suffering because it longs to be in assembly.
The need to be in faithful gathering means more than just going to the church house. The “church” is an assembly of believers; it is a testifying body of the faithful that unite in Jesus Christ, who has called His followers to gather unto Him. The church gives us a strong identity and sense of belonging. It is a living entity. The Gospel of John, Chapter 20, tells us that Jesus, after His resurrection, appeared to His disciples as they were gathered together in assembly. Christ gave all who were there, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those assembled became the body of Christ. This is where the power lies, in fellow shipping together, and to forsake it is damaging.
There are some that are beginning to feel as if they “get their word” in other ways, it is no longer important to them to be gathered in assembly. We cannot forget that Christ called us to assemble in order that the Body might function as one. The Assembly is where we gather to proclaim the victory of the Cross through worship and praise. To commune with others in the atmosphere of church gives life and I, for one, can’t wait to be in the presence of everyone again!
Lent is a ceremonial observance that starts on Ash Wednesday and launches the 40 days of repentance, denial of self, and spiritual maturity that we know as the Season of Lent. The significance of the Lenten Season is important to everyone who is Christian because it promotes focus and time to reflect on Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross. The focus of the Lenten Season is on sincere meditation and observance of the suffering and the sacrifice that Jesus went through for us. In the Old Testament, the Israelites used a visually symbolic practice of using ashes on top of their heads and covering their bodies in order to show repentance and mourning. They did this for 40 days. As Christians today, our visible symbol is the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead.
The number 40 has great significance in the Bible. It is associated with phenomenal events such as: the great temptation experienced by Christ when He spent 40 days and 40 nights meditating and fasting in the wilderness. There was a forty day period from His resurrection to His ascension (Book of Acts). Also, in the Old Testament, this number is associated with the Exodus where God let the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their disobedience and their unbelief in Him. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain with God, and then came down with the Commandments. During the great flood, it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Spies were sent by Joshua to the land of Canaan where they stayed 40 days. Elijah traveled for 40 days to meet God at Mt. Sinai, and the Giant, Goliath, intimidated the Israelites for 40 days until David defeated him.
Although the Bible gives us no explanation of the use the number 40 or the distinctiveness of this particular time frame, the Israelites viewed 40 days as a period of probation and chastisement. If we take it in this frame, we must know that the most important thing during this Season of Lent is to focus on repentance of our sins and consecrating ourselves to God.
Even though the season of Lent is not a biblical command, it is a deeply spiritual practice that identifies us as willing Christians. It is not just an annual church practice. If you received ashes on your forehead in the form of a cross, it tells the world that you proclaim Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and our hearts are open and willing to embrace a holy, spiritual renewal that can only come through Him. Because He paid the price for our sins on the Cross and redeemed us with His blood, the least we can do is observe Him through love and repentance for forty days.
As I pondered what to write about in our newsletter for Black History Month, my mind kept returning to my childhood and those wonderful women that made a loving and caring difference in my life. While growing up in Alabama and, undoubtedly, being a pest to my grandmother, she and her quilting circle of friends always encouraged me to never let go of God. They instilled in me to strive to be the best person that I can be, and to never forget that I am a “beautifully crafted piece of art made by God.”
During the unstable times of The Civil Rights Movement, I remember these wonderful women meeting in my grandmother’s living room to talk about what they could do to help the people that were protesting and marching in the Movement. Although this was a time of chaos, turbulence and fear, they proudly gathered at the church for fervent prayer; they strongly encouraged others to support the Movement and they dedicated themselves to raising money to help the grassroots organizers who were also unnamed. Although I was very young, I was in awe of them. They possessed a silent courage and walked in steps filled with purpose and pride. In spite of the fact that the names of these wonderful women were not well known, and even though their contributions were overlooked, these women realized that their silent work help tremendously toward obtaining equality for all black people. They were an anonymous part of a human rights struggle that far outweighed their desire for recognition. They stand among the many who stood in the background during those times of struggle and strife, but their courage goes unmatched.
It is a known fact that women were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement and I honor them during Black History Month. Below, I write the names of these unknown women with pride and respect:
Mrs. Emma Barron (my grandmother)
Mrs. Ruth Abner
Mrs. Cissy Jefferson
Mrs. Rosie DuRamos
Mrs. Mary Curry
Mrs. Rosetta Montgomery
They were a strong, faithful, supportive part of a nationwide Civil Rights Movement who were domestic workers in the little known town of Atmore, AL. They were the secret agents of change in their small community. Their strong presence will always remain larger than life to me. They are my she-roes!
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell