Looking Toward Lent
Do I really, truly look forward to Lent? Well, yes and no.
The word “lent” itself derives from two meanings: first, from an old Germanic word that means “long.” I sometimes joke that Lent is nothing if it is not loooong. But this type of “long” refers more to “lengthening” as in the lengthening of the daylight hours as we approach the springtime. Which leads to the second meaning, from the Olde English word “Lenten,” which means Spring. Thus, we find ourselves, as we do during Advent, preparing to, as we say in Godly Play, “enter into the mystery of Easter.”
The “length” of Lent is owing to the time Jesus is said to have spent in the desert prior to the start of his ministries. Forty days, a measure of time that early Christians took somewhat literally, but which actually—in the numerical symbolism of Biblical writing—meant something more like “a significantly long period of time.” There will be roughly six weeks, 42 days, give our take, between our celebration of Ash Wednesday on March 1, until Passion Week and then Easter Sunday, on April 16. Long, right? Plenty of time to prepare. But how?
Most of us cannot take the time to draw apart into the desert, as Jesus did. And so, we are invited into other practices that create little “deserts” in our lives: little pockets of time in which we can contemplate God’s message and discern our calling to ministry. We may engage in personal prayer practices, such as daily devotions or “offices.” We may (and I hope many of you will!) engage in a Lenten Series: weekly, evening gatherings of food, fellowship, and conversation (this year’s series is Hilary Brand’s The Power of Small Choices, outlined in the following article).
There is one primary quality that distinguishes Lent from Advent, and that is not a particularly popular notion that of penance. In a contemporary, Episcopal environment, you may be hard pressed to find much talk about “sin” or “repentance,” and yet, as Lent lengthens our days, we are invited to open our hearts to the possibility of our errors, our brokenness and vulnerability, and our need for redemption. During these long weeks, I encourage you to gently consider the positive changes you’d like God to help you make in your life. I also invite you to reach out—to me, to other caring professionals, to friends and family—about your intentions to amend behaviors and beliefs which may be holding you back. We all need a little help with this, sometimes.
Finally, I hope we will all make time for “oases” in the desert—time for celebrations along the way, for holy laughter, and for wells of deep joy. For even as we may mourn the losses necessary for the most positive of changes, it is through humor, love, and community that we are able to carry on toward the coming light.
So, put on your black cassocks and come share “Ashes to Go!,” or kneel at the altar to take on the ashes of our mortality. Put coins in the “mite box,” or give up chocolate, whatever helps you to travel. Just join me, join everyone, as “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.”
In the name of the One who came that we may be redeemed,