from this year’s Ash Wednesday posting:
For Disciples, the Lenten adventure is still somewhat strange from the rhythm of life, largely due to the penitential nature of the wider Church’s tradition, which has evolved through the centuries from a 3-day fast before Easter to a 40-day (plus Sundays) time of mixed misery and joy. It is important to keep a few salient features of the “best of Lent” in mind as planning is begun for the season:
- Lent means “spring.” This is a season of rebirth and renewal for the earth and all its peoples. We are called in the Lenten texts to more sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit within our inner lives, and to an outward demonstration of God’s faithfulness through acts of justice and love.
- Giving things up can be a blessing or a curse. It is not ours to direct what a “fast” during Lent might best look like, except where our own spirituality is concerned. In any case, Jesus is quick to warn us not to be “like the Pharisees” and wear such things on our sleeves. For some of us, that might be a good discipline to adopt for the season!
- Confession and absolution are rather outside many of our congregations’ normal rhythm of worship life, but Lent provides a wonderful opportunity for Disciples to reconsider the value of prayer that leads to change within ourselves and our communities. The flow of traditional worship in the wider Church has usually included (in all seasons) an opportunity to confess sins and receive absolution (words of God’s forgiveness). Jesus has given authority to the Church to declare the forgiveness of sins, and that’s a gospel duty that we would do well to hold sacred. In some places, absolution is withheld during Lent and a prayer of comfort and encouragement offered in its place. It’s good for pastors to wrestle with the meaning of these two acts, and consider how we might best invite persons into the life of faith (and into a closer walk with God) during this season by using prayers of confession (and, for this pastor, absolution). Suggestions will be given each week.
- Sundays of this season are in Lent. They are not of Lent. Sunday is always a celebration of Easter, and there is no place for fasting or mournfulness on Sundays in Lent.
- The Passion week experience is best delayed. Although many of my colleagues enjoy inspecting the “7 Last Words of Christ on the Cross” and other such themes as a prelude to Easter over the Sundays in Lent, the Passion and it’s details, while looming in the near distance throughout the season, are not the sole focus of the 40 days plus Sundays. Lent is, at its best, a time of preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism (and for baptismal renewal). It reminds us of who we are and of God’s grace poured out upon all the faithful in Baptism. This can often be the most challenging piece of planning for the pastor, whose role it is to help teach the faith, and to teach the faithful folks who are planning anthems and instrumental music (and other facets of congregational life) that Lent is not a funeral procession toward the cross…especially Sundays.
- Where have all the Alleluias gone? In many places, they are not said or sung during this season, but again, your editor pleads the “every Sunday is a little Easter” and asks that none of us be too harsh on those who continue to enjoy their Alleluias!
Have thoughts on Lent? Email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s share them.