Three upcoming observances in the church year

This Wednesday the church will be entering the season of Lent, a time of spiritual preparation in which we journey with Jesus in his passion, reflecting on the depth of his love and the meaning of his sacrifice and renewing our commitment to turn away from sin. Wendy M. Wright, in her book The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, describes Lent like this:

The forty days of Lent celebrate the dismembering, disequilibrium, and dying that are preludes to the creative transformation of Eastertide. It is a season of being changed and emptied so that new life might come to birth in us and resurrection be found in us as well. (17)

Thus emptied, we become ready to receive the fullness of joy that is the resurrection, an event so huge and so mind-blowing that we take fifty consecutive days to meditate on its meaning—to the first disciples and in our own lives and communities. We contemplate its promise, its victory, which are ours in Christ Jesus.

Eastertide concludes with the feast of Pentecost, a day in which we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Christian church. We invoke the Spirit’s power within us and without us to do mighty works, to bring comfort to the hurting, illumination to the unseeing, and revival to dead hearts and dead systems everywhere. 

Linda McCray, Passion to Pentecost, 2007. Acrylic paint and sand from Jerusalem on floating wood panels, 6 x 9.5 ft.

Linda McCray, Passion to Pentecost, 2007. Acrylic paint and sand from Jerusalem on floating wood panels, 6 x 9.5 ft.

Montana-based artist Linda McCray has taken paint to wood to visualize these three pivotal events in salvation history: Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, and Christ’s pouring out of his Spirit. Using a triptych format, she lays out the three side by side as a meditation on how they relate to one another, how they express one continuous gospel narrative.

The first and third panels bear a symmetry of sorts, but for purposes of juxtaposition: the dark storm cloud in the Passion panel contrasts with the fiery downpour in the Pentecost panel. Both storms break with force, but one is death dealing and the other life giving; in one, God’s wrath is unleashed, and in the other, his Spirit of peace.

McCray uses abstraction to express the transcendent truths of scripture, but not pure abstraction. In the Passion panel, five drips of red paint create the faint impression of a cross, of Christ’s five wounds. In the Pentecost panel, two white wisps join together in twin arcs, suggesting the wings of a dove.

The central panel is the most abstract, telling its story mainly through color and line. Resplendent gold acrylic drips up from the bottom, alluding not just to Christ’s resurrection from the tomb but also to his ascension into heaven. The bright white light of glory receives him, this God-man who is no longer earthbound. From the shadows Christ rises, and so do we.

From Passion to Pentecost locates the glory of Easter between two outpourings that are both for our good. On the one side, we are invited to mourn; on the other, to celebrate. These two plot points in Christ’s story—in our stories—and the disparate responses they elicit join in the middle, where the high-water mark and supreme mystery of our faith, the resurrection, invites us into full-bodied worship.

May this year’s Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost drive the gospel of Christ deeper into your life. May you rediscover what it means to be united with Christ in the likeness of his death and resurrection.

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