By Linda Linonis
The Rev. Paul Heine’s Lenten series challenges people to think about their role in the crucifixion and resurrection.
YOUNGSTOWN — The Rev. Paul W. Heine settled on the theme “Words To Live By,” for a Lenten series for a specific reason. “We can see ourselves in the story,” he said. “When we think about the Passion, we can see ourselves in Peter, Judas and Pilate.”
The pastor of Martin Luther Lutheran Church is using recognizable phrases that Jesus uttered during the crucifixion. For example, “Father forgive them” (Luke 23:32-38), was this week’s theme, and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:44-49), will be the theme April 1.
“I’m trying to offer a different perspective of Jesus on the cross. Thinking of the cross as a mirror ... and seeing our part in putting Jesus there,” he said. “The cross is the wonder of God at work ... it’s seeing the larger picture of God’s redemption plan for us.”
The 40-minute services, scheduled at noon Wednesdays, include hymns, prayers of the day and sermons. But there are no alleluias, as this is a solemn time of spiritual renewal in a quiet setting. This week, about 25 people attended the service.
“Everyone in the Passion story has something that relates to our story,” the Rev. Mr. Heine told those at the service. “People around the cross had a part in the story by action or inaction.” He noted that also describes our behavior in our daily lives.
Mr. Heine said that Judas, Pilate, the disciples and Mary were playing out parts in God’s game of redemption. “The love of God and the fear of Rome clashed at the cross,” he said. People today continue to be part of this road to redemption.
“But God’s power is transforming power,” he said. “Jesus’ response to violence and hatred is the good news of forgiveness. Jesus helps us understand what makes life possible. The challenge for us is ‘Do we want to do the same?’.”
Mr. Heine said the Lenten program is an annual presentation at the church. “It’s something somber,” he said. Previously, he’s done programs with themes around the Passion, the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. “There are plenty of resources out there. You don’t have to start with a blank page,” he said. “I try to make it my own ... once I get I get the idea, I’m fine.”
Mr. Heine described what Lenten services are not. ... “It’s not Good Friday for 40 days,” he said of the solemn and sad day that marks the death of Jesus. “It is looking forward to the good news.”
Mr. Heine noted that the words from the cross allude to more. “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
“We don’t want to miss out on the kingdom,” Mr. Heine said.
Following Jesus’s example of forgiveness is what we should emulate in our lives, the pastor said. “When Jesus says, ‘Father, forgive them,’ we see the faith of Jesus in his father,” Mr. Heine said. The pastor noted that God’s love for us is unwavering and nothing we do can alter his love.
“At the cross, the faith of Jesus is seen. We need to reflect on that. He had a faith that allowed him to go to his own death and fulfill the mission he had,” Mr. Heine said.
“God has the last word. People thought they had the last word,” Mr. Heine said of those who wanted Jesus to be put to death and saw that happen. “They thought they had an easy solution. They missed the point of what was really going on.”
The Resurrection shows that God has the final word, Mr. Heine said, and that Jesus was true to his faith in God, his mission and the final outcome.
“We have a mission as well,” Mr. Heine said, but noted that we often fret if we don’t see results. He said pastors face this situation in many ways. Feedback can take many years,” he said.
Mr. Heine described the Lenten services as part of the “faith journey” that draws participants closer to Easter. “You have to have both of them, Good Friday and Easter, because they’re two parts of the same story,” Mr. Heine said. “Death doesn’t have the last word.”
Mr. Heine said he hoped the Lenten services helped participants reflect on their lives. “Scripture is new all the time through the passage of our lives,” he said. He noted at different stages of life ... the birth of a child, divorce, loss of a job, death of a loved one. ... People interpret and understand Scripture differently.
“It’s part of process as we learn about ourselves ... that changes ... but we continue to be children of God,” he said.
Esther Blice, who has a been a member since 1939, said the Lenten service “gets her through the week” and is an important part of her Lenten journey.
Jan Buist, who joined the church last summer, said she liked how Pastor Heine “takes the Bible message and makes it modern.”
Cindy Cleeland, organist, noted that the Lenten services are more solemn and penitential.
After the service, those attending move to the fellowship hall, where a simple soup lunch is served. Peg Kelly, a member since 1953, was supervising the kitchen this week. Wedding soup was featured. “I have the recipe in my head,” she said, adding that was how most of the volunteer cooks worked.
Of the Lenten services, she said, “It makes me think more about how Jesus died and forgave us. We need to forgive one another, not just on one day, but every day.”