Rev. William D. Ingraham
The season of Lent began early for us this year at First Church Congregational. The death of two beloved members of our church family in two consecutive days was hard to bear.
On Tuesday evening, we lost Marge Newton, who had been on hospice for only a week. She had experienced a massive stroke more than two years prior. We had been holding her and her husband, Wayne, and all of their family, in our prayers and in our hearts. I was given the deep honor of joining Wayne and some of the family at her bedside after her passing, holding them in prayer on the church’s behalf. Our journey through grief at the loss of Marjorie A. Newton was only just beginning that night.
That was Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we had begun the process of notifying the congregation of Marge’s death. That night, Herb Lindtveit was feeling very poorly, and asked his eldest daughter to drive him to the hospital emergency room. Moments later, he went into full cardiac arrest. The hospital staff gave their best effort but were unable to revive him. Again, I was given the deep honor of joining the family, standing with Erin, their children, and Lynn, Herb’s mother, in this shocking and painful moment. I offered prayers, both silent and spoken, shared hugs and held hands, and gave my best effort to being present on behalf of our church and the God of love and life whom we worship, and our savior whom we serve. I was in shock. We all were. We still are, I believe. These are the early days of our journey through grief at the loss of Herbert Edward Lindtveit, Jr.
Ash Wednesday is March 6 this year – next week. It marks the beginning of Lent on the liturgical calendar. The season spans the six and a half weeks preceding Easter. Traditionally, or “officially,” Lent it is a time for confession, self-sacrifice, and of recognizing how far we are from God’s intention for us. The hope is for the observance of Lent to facilitate a deeper faith and a stronger commitment to living after the example of Jesus. With Sundays as a weekly “day off” from fasting, Lent is reckoned as 40 days long.
While I have observed Lent from this perspective for much of my life, I have found another image of Lent to be more helpful, especially in times of grief and loss. In such moments, I approach Lent as a wilderness journey. In the scriptures, after his baptism, Jesus was led (or driven) into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. In the wilderness, he fasted and struggled with temptation. The scriptures say he wrestled with the devil himself! In the end, he found his way through and out of the wilderness by grounding himself in faithfulness to God and God’s good intention. Fully dependent upon God, he was able to meet every challenge he faced. Fully dependent upon God, he found himself to be waited upon by the angels. Fully dependent upon God, he was ready, when his wilderness time was through, to reenter his life, and in fact, to begin his life anew. From his time in the wilderness, Jesus found a sense of wholeness that enabled him to begin his life’s ministry of teaching, preaching, loving and healing.
The season of Lent began early for us this year at First Church Congregational. We find ourselves in the wilderness of grief, wandering and wondering how ever we will find our way through. But we are not without hope! The God of love and mercy joins us here, and Christ, our savior, knows the path we trod. With the Spirit’s guidance we will make our way through these dark and difficult days, enveloped in Divine love that holds us close and never lets us go – even when we cannot perceive it.
We will continue to hold the Newton family and Lindtveit family in our hearts and in our prayers. We will walk this journey with them and hold them close. We will share support in every way we know how. And we will find our way to a new and renewed life. Easter is coming! And with it comes hope and joy beyond measure. Right now, true joy seems almost unfathomable. Yet it will come, on God’s own timing, with God’s help.
See you in church… - Bill