Walking with Jesus this year during Lent has reminded me of the benefits of walking itself. In a recent article about the Camino in Spain, I read about some of those benefits, which reminded me of our church’s ministry. Walking, the article said, is one of the best exercises we can engage in for health and happiness. In 2008, one group of researchers asked sedentary people to walk regularly and found that the activity made their participants less depressed and gave them more vigor. A 2016 study showed that regular walking increases happiness and improves mental health among the elderly. Less depression. Increased vigor and happiness. Improved mental health. Makes me even more grateful for the Pilgrim Walks our church is doing each month when we can experience not only the health benefits, but the fellowship and community too.
Those benefits may be obvious to many, but I for one need to be reminded of them from time to time, when it is so easy to stay indoors, work on my computer, watch an episode (or two or three) of some show, often sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Those two studies remind me that walking has its own benefits that allow us then to layer on the opportunity we have this Lent to explore walking with Jesus.
Walking with Jesus this Lent has reminded me of the benefits of being intentional about my relationship with Jesus as well. Coming out of the pandemic, many are reevaluating their routines and lifestyles. Lent invites the same sort of reflection of our lives and relationship with God. How have we lost the benefits of our relationship with Jesus, letting our relationship grow stale and sedentary rather than be a gift that invigorates the life we live? No matter what age you are, how does your walk with Jesus increase your ability to live in and through the joys and concerns, the ups and downs of life? The words for Jesus we have focused on during Lent, Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, and Way, invite us to understand anew what we mean when we call Jesus these names, how our understanding of him has grown stale, and how our experience of him is deeply connected to all that we experience in life. Those words become ways for us to see the benefit of his companionship with us.
Those words also prepare us for the final word, the word we use on Easter Sunday, Presence. Presence isn’t simply a word we use at Christmas time. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” we proclaim. The Presence of Jesus is also how we talk about the new life he reveals to us in his resurrection. No one expected to find Jesus on the living side of the tomb, especially after the trauma and tragedy of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. No one expected to find him present and able to speak, hug, eat, laugh, and love. No one expected to meet him near his tomb or back in town or on their walk back home or in a locked room full of grieving people. His presence was gone.
His resurrection to life made everyone rethink and reexamine their faith back then and invites us to do the same in our lives and faith today. If Jesus can be raised to new life, how is Jesus present to us today, offering us love and grace, inviting us out of our ruts and into the benefits of walking together anew? His resurrection isn’t just an add-on or luxury in our lives. It changes the way we see everything – the lives we live, the church we are together, the work we do daily and together. Jesus is present in all of it, inviting us more deeply into our humanity to love and laugh, celebrate and grieve, believe and doubt, if we can see our lives and see deeply into it. That’s when presence becomes a way of life that we discover as we walk this life in faith.
Presence is also the gift of life we offer one another as a community. I’ve been struck these last few weeks by how many different ways we can offer the gift of God’s presence in us and our presence to one another. The church member that visits the lonely person. The friend who loves another through a rough patch. The new parents who learn to love their baby and one another in new ways and the people that support them. The funeral gatherings where we mourn and celebrate someone we love and support their families. The care we offer one another in food. The time we offer to share and receive stories of our lives. These and so many more ways invite us not simply to do something but to be present to one another. Our presence is the real gift in those moments. We are sharing our lives and the many natural, often unnoticed ways, God is with us, in us and working through us. We are sharing our humanity with one another and letting others be themselves. We are living as people made in God’s image. I can’t think of a greater celebration of Easter’s new life in us than when we share our presence and through us, God’s presence, with one another and this world God loves.
Thank you for walking together through Lent this year. I hope you will join us for the journey through Holy Week and our walk into the darkest days of Jesus’ life. They are an important reminder of how far Jesus goes, not to retaliate against the violence against him, but to remain committed to love and its presence in his life. They also show us how much Jesus trusted that his life was in God’s hands. The good news is that we can celebrate his triumph over death, his new life, and his presence now with us as we walk through life. May you know that good news and its benefits for your life and faith on our journey through Holy Week, in our celebrations on Easter Sunday, and every day of your life.