As we approach Lent, I’m actually excited this year. Excited that this season actually makes sense to me. And hopefully it will make sense to you, too.
I used to have a love/hate relationship with Lent that was much more of the hate than the love. All the somber tones, the need to punish ourselves, the quitting of things, all brought a heaviness to my childhood life.
Lent also brought excitement and hope, which may sound a bit strange. I loved the routine of it. We would have these potluck programs on Wednesday nights and I loved that there was a second day of the week we’d go to church. I grew up next to the building in a rectory and was always visiting my Dad in his office, so it wasn’t about walking into the building so much as being there with these people: people who I respected and genuinely liked. People who were full of faith and experience. I wanted to eat with them and be with them. And someone always brought a bucket of fried chicken.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that we don’t do this Lent stuff lightly. Doing anything remotely penitential runs against the mainstream of Christian practice at the moment. With all the happy, the victorious, and the “just believe a little more”. Being penitential is certainly the unpopular choice.
Even though the church has been doing Lent for centuries and the penitential part is as ancient as anything in the church, it is a weird concept. It truly is about being different. And as the church becomes less a part of people’s regular lives, the season of Lent recedes, also. It’s patterns and expectations are becoming more distant and foreign.
I hope that this year, we bring these patterns and practices forward. Bring them close.
Our Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday, in a ritual of remembering. Remembering what Jesus taught us. Remembering what Jesus came to do. Remembering that we are but dust and we will simply return to dust.
It continues through forty days (not counting Sundays) of fasting and self-denial. A time in which we hold close to our hearts the struggles and the pain of the world. We are mindful of sources of pain and sin. And we are compelled to turn toward mercy and forgiveness.
We’ll finish the season with Holy Week, a time of powerful remembering, in which we walk through the steps of Jesus, entering Jerusalem, teaching, anointing, and finally we return to the table with our friends to remember, to eat and to serve. For in the hours to come that night, Jesus was arrested, tried, and at noon, executed. We gather to remember, not because we have forgotten the story, but because the act of re-membering the story is powerful and necessary for our faith. It brings it close.
I know you are busy. I know it always sneaks up on us while we’re looking the other way. This is an awful time of year to do Lent. I sometimes wish this were a summer deal. But what we have instead is the annual call to remember. To remember that we know the way. That we know Jesus. That we know what Jesus was teaching and preparing his disciples to do. And yet we still need the reminder. We still need help in doing.
How to Bring Lent Close
We need help remembering. That’s why many of us do something daily as an act of remembering. For some, it is a meditation that shows up in our emailbox each morning. Or it is a daily meditation you can carry with you, like the free resource you can get from church. Or it is an act of discipline that requires daily attention, like not drinking coffee, or waking up an hour earlier. Check out our collection of resources for this year!
There are many simple ways to mark the whole Lenten season and keep it close to your mind and heart. My favorite is the one that has always been my favorite: marking the season in worship and weekly gatherings for food and formation. For us, that is our Sunday Soup and Study. We will gather at 6:00 for a soup and bread supper, then our “study” time, often called a “Lenten Program” and finishing with Compline. It is a pattern that gives us time together to share, to explore, and to pray.
Our study will be about Jesus’s last week, the primary story of our Christian faith. But there is much more to it than Jesus Died / Jesus Was Raised. It is a story of humanity and divinity, of love and hate, hope and fear. And it is a story that can make our season of Lent more profound by going through the story together.
As a resource, we’ll be using The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan: an engaging book that deals with historical elements of Jesus’s last week and the deeply spiritual reverberations of what really happened. You are welcome to read along with us. I’ve ordered copies of the book, which I’m offering free to participants. For those called to “pay for” their book (or the book of a friend), you are welcome to do so. Just let me know and I’ll get a copy for you.
How you choose to bring Lent close this year matters less than that you do. For this is the season in which we are called to examine ourselves and our faith, study, seek repentance and forgiveness, and learn to show uncommon mercy.
That’s why I ask myself each year: If this weren’t so hard to do, would we ever arrive at Easter?
May you keep a holy Lent next week!
Peace to you,