The Mount Carmel Area Ecumenical Ministerium will present community mid-week Lenten services. They all begin at 6 p.m. with the sharing of a common meal consisting of soup and a sandwich followed by the service as participants sit together in fellowship. The offerings will be used to assist the poor and needy of the community.

Lent is primarily a time of preparation. What we do in Lent, the discipline we undertake, should be calculated in the light of that purpose. What do we need in order that we may be better trained, more free, more obedient to serve our Lord? There are more important things for us and Lent is a time for putting first things first in our lives.

The theme for the next six weeks will be "Christ On Trial." More than 2,000 years have come and gone since Caiaphas and Pilate passed judgment on Jesus in Jerusalem. And though the verdict passed down at that trial was a miscarriage of justice, the result fulfilled God's purpose to save the world by sacrificing his Son.

Christ most certainly is on trial. His saving act, his being in the world, his radical teachings all demand a reaction. Every human heart must wrestle with questions like: Who is this Christ? Is he who he claims to be? If so, what does he mean for me and my living? Christ demands a reply. Daily, Christ is on trial. And Christ is again on trial this Lent. We will examine evidence that demands a verdict: Who is this Jesus for you?

Each week we will enter into the courtroom in session to determine who Christ is. There have been many claims that Jesus never had a fair trial, that no defense witnesses were ever heard, that it was all a pharisaical plot, that Jesus never had a chance. We will be called together to hear the story of Jesus and declare a verdict.

There is an old spiritual hymn entitled "Were You There?" Were you there when they crucified my Lord? We will be there. We will watch as each of the main characters participated in this drama. We will hear the opening statements of the prosecuting attorney. We will hear all of the coming witnesses being declared hostile witnesses. As the trial wraps up, we will hear the closing arguments and you, the jury, will be charged to decide Jesus fate.

Our first witness will be Matthew, the tax collector. He will tell of Jesus' scandalous association with the seedier side of society. We will particularly question Matthew about a certain meal.

Our next witness will be a woman healed, a former cripple. She will testify that she suffered for 18 years and Jesus cured her. As the jury, you may sympathize with her, but remember that Jesus healed her on the Sabbath, a direct violation of the law.

We will hear the testimony of Nicodemus, a scholar. He will be the exception to all the riff-raff from which the other witnesses are drawn. Will Nicodemus, who would not risk his position in the Sanhedrin for Jesus' sake, be able to show us that Jesus' teachings fall apart under the scrutiny of close theological examination?

Another witness will be the adulterous woman. This woman will offer testimony that Jesus is a self-elected "judge and jury." Her lifestyle was so scandalous, she was about to be stoned. She will claim that the experience changed her life.

The jury will also hear from John - one from the inner circle. We will hear statements that he is the one closest to Jesus. It is certain that he will tell us about Jesus private teachings.

Another witness will be Simon Peter - The Rock. He will testify to the disruption of social mores. We will see Peter who loved but was unprepared. We will also question him about a certain meal.

Another witness will be Mary Of Magdala. She will tell all. There are a lot of stories about this woman, some true, some false.

We will listen as Caiaphas, who would save the nation and defend the faith of our fathers against this radical blasphemer and let Jesus perish. We will listen to Herod who just did not care.

We will listen as Pilate, who was afraid, approves the crucifixion of this rebellious Jew in the interests of the peace and order of the empire. This is the last desperate attempt of a man who had majored in evasiveness all his life to escape responsibility.

He thought he could outsmart everyone, including Jesus. He had considered himself an expert in the fine and difficult art of carrying water on both shoulders and straddling the fence, until he came face to face with Jesus Christ.

We will be among those who had openly or secretly admired Jesus, but who under the influence of natural human fear, had taken an attitude of indifference and inertia and perhaps said, "I don't want to get involved in something that isn't my concern."

Six weeks of testimonies is a long trial. We realize we are asking a great deal from each of you to hear all these witnesses, but remember we are charged with a solemn responsibility. We will decide whether Jesus is who he claimed to be, and whether his life, death and resurrection have meaning.

It will be up to each member of the jury to decide whether the sins with which we were born and with which we could die are easily washed away as ashes on a forehead, just by accepting the forgiveness Jesus offers.

As we examine the evidence each week of Jesus influence, consider what part Jesus plays in what you think and do. And we can feel free to talk among ourselves and those outside our courtroom about what we hear. Ours is a solemn duty, exercise it well.

Please join us on the following Wednesdays:

Ash Wednesday services

- Grace United Church Of Christ and First United Methodist Church, Kulpmont (combined service), at First UMC in Kulpmont, 7 p.m.

- Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel, 7 p.m.

- Church of the Holy Angels, Kulpmont, 7 p.m.

- First United Methodist Church, Mount Carmel and First United Methodist Presbyterian, Ashland (combined service) at First UMC/Presbyterian, Ashland, 7 p.m.

Lenten services

6 p.m. Wednesdays

- March 12, Our Lady of Mount Carmel social hall.

- March 19, First United Methodist Church, Kulpmont, social hall.

- March 26, Church of the Holy Angels activity center, Kulpmont.

- April 2, First United Methodist Church, Mount Carmel, social hall.

- April 9, Grace United Church Of Christ social hall, Mount Carmel.

Good Friday service

- Noon to 3 p.m. April 18, Good Friday community service, Presbyterian Church, Fifth and Hickory streets, Mount Carmel.