Day 2 - Pauses for Lent - Return

3/7/2019

“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful”
Joel 2:13
 
I read Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, just a few weeks before my first mission trip to Russia. Some of the inspiration for his work came from Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son’s return to his father. The author reported that he was tempted to wallow in his own lostness and estrangement from God and that he doubted at times that there was a loving God waiting. Those struggles, and then the truths that Nouwen later shared about the prodigal son in that book, certainly inspired my preaching and the conversations that I had on that mission trip to Russia.

The theme of “return” is definitely on the mind of Jesus as he is making his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. Luke 9:51 tells us that Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem. And on that journey and in Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories about a sheep, coin and son that all experience a return.
 
Those stories remind us that “return” was on the mind of the shepherd, woman and father. We wonder how many times that father looked down the road waiting to see if his child was returning. Jesus ended each of those stories by talking about the celebration that occurs when there is a return. Yet, for a variety of reasons, we can come to this Lenten season wondering if the arms of God will be open and if God will search us out yet again. As Jesus is walking toward the cross, he is very clear with us that our return is on his mind.
 
On the last day of our Russia mission trip we visited The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. That museum is filled with art from a great variety or periods and artists. I distinctly remember turning a corner and being stopped in my tracks. Though I had just finished Nouwen’s book, I had forgotten that Rembrandt’s painting was housed at The Hermitage. The size of the painting, being almost eight feet high, was striking enough but to be beautifully confronted by the gracious and merciful love of God that the prophet Joel had talked about was amazing and jaw-dropping. I told our mission team to go on ahead because I was going to take my time and to stay with this painting for a long while.

In Lent we are called to take our time and to return. Joel promised us that God is gracious and merciful and, because of Jesus’ cross, we can know that it is God’s desire to always seek us and call us to return.
 
Merciful Lord, help us to take time through these holy days to sense anew your grace and to allow ourselves to be found. Amen.

Rev. Barry Male, Madison UMC
 


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