Christmas ended over 6 weeks ago. Lent starts in a little over 2 weeks. We are in Epiphany, the season of the Church Year in which we journey with Jesus through the 3 years of public ministry He had on the earth. (Some traditions call this “Ordinary Time”.)
It’s interesting to note the different phases or seasons of ministry that Jesus had.
Phase 1 was the start-up: He shows up on the scene and starts to get noticed (Baptism, early miracles, calling the disciples, etc.). Fairly quickly He moves into the popularity phase: crowds gather to be healed and to listen, and no doubt today George Stroumboulopoulos would have wanted to interview Him. His family thought He was nuts (Mark 3:20-21) and out-of-control (“Joseph, you should have kept Him building benches in your carpentry shop!”) but everyone else liked Him.
But then, once the crowds are there and as they actually start to listen to His teaching, His popularity wanes. He is not saying easy stuff. He is not sugar-coating the message and buying a big stadium to house all the people who have flocked to Him. Instead, He is telling it like it is, telling them to count the cost and carry their cross. Yikes. This is when His advisers may have told Him to change His communications consultant and re-package the message in more listener-friendly attire. 😉 In this phase, religious leaders start to plot against Him for disobeying Sabbath laws (Mark 3:1-6) and Jesus escapes from the maelstrom of Jerusalem-based conflict and re-locates to Galilee.
The last phase is what we mark in Lent: when the tide has turned and Jesus knows that His time is near and He begins the slow but intentional journey back to Jerusalem, knowing what awaits Him. You know what happens next.
I wonder if these phases of Jesus’ ministry are illustrative of different dynamics Christ-followers face as they share God’s love in word and deed. There are times of popularity and fruitfulness, when it seems we move from success to success and are in the sweet spot of blessing. There are other times when we bump into harder issues of discipleship and we need to make choices about how to stay faithful to the Way of Jesus in a grace-filled but obedient manner. And, perhaps, there are times when we need to walk into our Jerusalem with a servant-hearted spirit and raw trust in God, even knowing what may await us.
Maybe that’s why it’s important that we journey through the Church Year, each year? Just wondering. I’m not a card-carrying Church Year guy — given that I tend towards being an iconoclast who loves re-inventing and innovation, I don’t fully buy into any pattern that locks down creativity. But at the same time as I’ve grown older, I have grown more and more appreciative of the journey on which the Church Year takes us, and for many years now it has given shape to my personal prayer life and worship.
As I think of the various Fields and places of ministry that CBM’s global network extends to, some are in times of obvious blessing and others are in times of obvious distress. My prayer is that regardless of the phase, we will be faithful to our calling and to embodying and speaking the Gospel.