James Brown, in a legendary purple suit, similar to the one the author remembers from a performance on Soul Train.

“Get on the good foot” for Lent: pray

Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter

March 18, 2019

I recently stumbled on a James Brown video clip on YouTube. Immediately, I was taken back to my youth in the 1970s in a North Jersey suburb. We gathered around and watched TV as a family. As a kid, I remember watching Brown on Saturday mornings (I believe on WPIX, Channel 11) when he and The JB’s band performed on Don Cornelius’ iconic dance show “Soul Train.” Brown, “the Godfather of Soul,” was wearing a purple jumpsuit, shiny black platform shoes, gripping the microphone, moving and grooving and singing his hit song, “Get on the Good Foot.”        

“Get on the good foot” has come to mean “start correctly.” For Christians, as it relates to Lent, it means starting with prayer.

Prayer is the first step on the journey toward deep faith. We see this demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ.

Prior to beginning his life mission, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for a time of testing and preparation. Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is leading, and Jesus is following, this episode suggests that Jesus is engaged in holy communication: prayer. In fact, the Gospel of Luke ensures that we understand Jesus as a man of prayer.

Jesus heals a man covered with a skin disease, and subsequently, his popularity is off the charts.  People are drawn to him. “But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16 NRSV).

Prayer is the first item on Jesus’ agenda when he readies himself to select his 12 apostles. “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12 NRSV). 

After a long day of ministering to enthusiastic crowds, and then recognizing economic disparities were such that the neighborhood didn’t have a market that could provide healthy and nutritious food, Jesus cooks up a miracle meal with five loaves of bread and two fish. But before giving the food to his disciples to give to the crowd, Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed” the food (Luke 9:16 NRSV).

Prayer is an inescapable spiritual discipline that Jesus demonstrates. It’s about drawing closer to God. It’s about relationship, and not a manipulative device to get what we want.

Given the primacy of prayer in the life of Jesus, it’s a good place to start for Christians as we begin the sacred season of Lent. Let’s start with prayer.

Lent — translated from Greek and Latin words meaning “the Forty” — is the period of the Christian liturgical calendar that directs believers to the redemptive works of Jesus Christ. It’s the reflective prelude to the two most important celebrations on the Church calendar — Good Friday and Easter. Lent prepares us for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It was after the Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical discussions at the Council of Nicaea in 325 that the length of Lent became 40 days. The number 40 is familiar in biblical literature (Genesis 7; Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; 1 Kings 19; Jonah 3:4; and Luke 4).

Attention is given to individual self-examination, penitence, fasting, devotion and renewal during Lent.

For Protestants in North America, Lent’s 40 days begin on Ash Wednesday and continue through Holy Week. Ash Wednesday is a day of penitence. Palms saved from the previous Palm Sunday are burned, mixed with a little water (like tears) or oil. On Ash Wednesday, Christians attend church, and a minister uses the ashes to make a small cross on the believers’ forehead. The cross is a reminder of Jesus’ salvific love and forgiveness. 

Sundays, designated for corporate worship, are not calculated in the 40 days. Two weeks in Lent are given special significance: Passion Week and Holy Week. Passion Week begins with Passion Sunday, two Sundays before Easter, and continues to Palm Sunday eve. Holy Week extends from Palm Sunday (one Sunday before Easter) to Easter eve. The special days which move us through Holy Week are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal, yet humble, arrival into Jerusalem, recorded in all of the gospels. Maundy Thursday observes the biblical accounts of Jesus’ sharing the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:19-20), and subsequently washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-15).

When we arrive at Good Friday, we observe the suffering and death of Jesus. Within many African American congregations, the Good Friday worship service features seven sermons based on the seven expressions attributed to Jesus during his crucifixion (Luke 23:34; Luke 23:43; John 19:26-27; Matthew 27:46 [Mark 15:34]; John 19:28; John 19:30; and Luke 23:46, respectively).     

The color for Lent is purple. The one exception is Good Friday, whose color is black, signifying death.

Lent leads Christians into Easter. And every pilgrimage — every serious spiritual sojourn — starts with prayer. Borrowing the words of James Brown, “Get on the good foot.” Let’s make prayer the foundational priority through every step of our Lenten journey.

Lent leads Christians into Easter. And every pilgrimage — every serious spiritual sojourn — starts with prayer. Borrowing the words of James Brown, “Get on the good foot.” Let’s make prayer the foundational priority through every step of our Lenten journey.

What does the Bible say about prayer? Here are some Scriptures you can study: Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 17:1; Psalm 25:1; Psalm 145:18; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 14:23; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 4:16 and Hebrews 10:22.

Adapted from Journey With Jesus Through Lent (Judson Press, 2017). The Rev. Dr. Glenn E. Porter Sr. is senior pastor at Queen Street Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.; adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Tidewater Community College; and volunteer chaplain with the City of Norfolk Police Department. He is author of “Journey With Jesus Through Lent” (Judson Press, 2017).

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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