As we approach the season of Lent (beginning with Ash Wednesday, February 26) and also celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day later this spring, you can focus on God’s Creation for your Lenten journey this year. I’ve written a new nature-themed Lenten devotional, For the Beauty of the Earth, to share some insights as to why Creation care is such an important issue for the church right now. Disciples News Service and Chalice Press posed some good questions for a Q&A about the book. I’ll share those in this three-part series.
Why did you decide to combine your passion for Creation care and a Lenten devotional together?
When I was a pastor in my first congregation, someone asked me a question in a Bible study: “How often does Jesus make references to nature in his teaching?” I knew Jesus had talked about several aspects of Creation, but when I began reading through the Gospels I was surprised just how many times nature is referenced either by Jesus himself (over 50), or in the accounts about him and his birth, ministry, death and resurrection (over 55). That question prompted me to compile a list of all these passages to share with the group. I’ve held onto that list for nearly twenty years, knowing I wanted to create some kind of devotional in the future.
Then over the past two years, I worked with researchers at the University of Kentucky on a program called Healthy Trees, Healthy People which trains participants to become “citizen scientists” to observe tree health, report invasive pests, enhance their health, and appreciate trees in the city parks of Lexington where I live. I suggested they expand their program to train folks who attend church because they would have a natural inclination to care about God’s Creation, build community, and take steps for healthier living. We did just that, and I developed some devotionals about trees for participants to use on their walks.
As I was thinking about the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, I took the nature passages about Jesus and the tree devotionals and developed this Lenten devotional. It’s based on one of my favorite hymns, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and the verses guide the themes for each week of our Lenten journey.
How can For the Beauty of the Earth be used as a congregational resource this Lent?
For the Beauty of the Earth can be used by individuals for private Lenten devotionals and for small group studies. It could work for a Sunday School group, an adult forum, youth group devotionals, and family devotionals in the home. The hymn upon which the booklet is based mentions many aspects of existence that evoke gratitude, including the earth and skies, trees and flowers, human love and the “best gift divine” – Christ Jesus himself. The hymn’s lyrics are included in the booklet so people can sing a different verse each day before they read the devotional.
Each devotional suggests a Bible passage which participants can read with an eye toward how the scripture supports an ethic of caring for Creation and each other. Then after reading and discussing the short reflection for each passage, there are either questions to ponder or a spiritual practice to try. Again, this can be done alone or with a group during your Lenten journey.
Another way the devotional can be used is for mid-week Lenten services. The services can address the theme for each week, the Bible passage can be read aloud, and the worship leader can read the reflection, or invite others to take turns reading. If a pastor leads the worship service, she or he can develop a sermon around the theme of the week or on a topic for one particular day. The sermons can speak to the need to focus on justice and equity among vulnerable populations.
Holy scriptures from many different traditions emphasize the ethical command to care for “the least of these,” to use Jesus’s words. Christians have a moral obligation to be ambitious advocates for those who are suffering now and will suffer the most in the future from climate disruption. These include impoverished individuals, people of color, the elderly, children, and those living in areas where drought, wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons, and floods destroy lives and communities. When we lift up God’s Creation, we lift up everyone with hope, resilience, justice, and the promise of new life in Christ.
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
Leah’s latest book is a Lenten devotional centered on Creation: For the Beauty of the Earth (Chalice Press, 2020).