Introduction to PEC's Lenten Devotional
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
I remember the beginning of the 2020 Lenten season quite clearly. This was my first Lent as a seminary student, and the school was abuzz with anticipation. Students were discussing amongst themselves about how they might channel this period of abstinence into impactful action. The chapel worship team excitedly invited students, faculty, and staff to join together for the Ash Wednesday service. Some students even hosted Mardi Gras parties (yes, more than one) on that Tuesday night complete with colorful beads and a plethora of sweets. I was excited to be in this space where Lent and Easter wouldn’t just be Sunday morning references, but events to be reminded of and look forward to daily. Little did I expect, however, that I, along with people the world over, would soon be giving up much more than I had bargained for.
Over the course of several weeks last March and April, we watched as the world collectively entered into what was previously reserved for an episode of the Twilight Zone. The streets were largely empty, restaurants and churches closed, elbow bumps and quick waves replaced handshakes and hugs, and people began hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. As the weeks went on, we all watched as violence against our Black siblings sparked pent-up pandemic nerves to fuel social unrest and protests. Soon weeks became months, and masks became essential accessories, classrooms and church sanctuaries broadcasted from our computer screens, and political unrest took on a whole new meaning in our country on that fateful January 6th. Whether we like it or not, the world is a different place, and it has touched all of us.
Considering all of the tension, changes, and sacrifices we have already had to make, it almost seems unnecessary to begin thinking about Lent once again. After all, what more do we have to give up? But let us not forget what the Lenten Season promises us: the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which he opens the doors and makes room for all of us in his Father’s house (John 14:2-3). Jesus promises us something new, a new way forward that leads to truth and life. Just as Lent is a commemoration of Jesus’ time in the wilderness (which might feel particularly apropos this year), this season is also reminder of Jesus’ promise for us, and a time to prepare ourselves for the new world Jesus brings with him.
In Revelations 21:1-4, the scripture passage for this year’s devotional, John sees a vision of what Jesus promises. After visions of angels, plagues, and beasts, John witnesses the arrival of a new heaven and new earth to replace the old. This is a hallowed place marked as the home of God, free from all suffering, pain, and death. While ours is not paradise, we also see a new world around us marked with expectations and demands once largely unseen and unheard. We now have an opportunity to join in with the voices crying out for justice, mercy, and love, to join in the reimagining that is needed to build the new Jerusalem of our dreams. This reimagining is already taking place around us; in the face of isolation and violence, we have found new ways of building community, new networks of resiliency, and new understandings of how to better love one another and ourselves.
Our work as stewards of God’s creation also requires us to imagine a new earth, to take back the land, water, and air away from polluting, extractive, and imperialist ways of viewing our home and neighbors and to create something sustainable, equitable, and compassionate in its place. The task ahead of us is colossal, but do not forget about the stories of environmental renewal that sprung up in the midst of the pandemic: fauna of all shapes and sizes returned to their old homes, cities recorded record-low levels of pollution, and people rediscovered the joy of gardening and cultivating the earth. Whether we work towards justice for our planet or for our neighbors, we have an opportunity now to embrace the new world around us.
Whatever your Lenten practice might be this year, I pray that you will look to God for comfort and assurance in this ever-precarious world we find ourselves in. I pray also that you let the voices in this devotional move your heart, and to accept their invitation into joining in communion with all creation as we go forward.
To the Glory of God,
P.S. For those that did not know, 2020 was PEC’s 25th Anniversary. In commemoration of this momentous achievement, several of the writers in this devotional are past and present leaders of PEC ministries. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported PEC’s work. May God continue to bless us for another 25 years!
Jonathan Lee is a second year Masters of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School. Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jonathan’s faith and love for God’s Creation were simultaneously cultivated during a time in the Maine woods. In addition to considering a career in ordained ministry, Jonathan is interested in environmental and Asian American theologies. He is currently serving as Presbyterians for Earth Care’s Programming and Learning Fellow.