Lent

For me, Lent has been – and remains – one of the most mysterious and hard-to-grasp seasons of the liturgical year.  Part of this mystery stems from my time before my adult baptism, when I wasn’t a part of a formal faith community.  I would be going about my usual life on a particular Wednesday in the late winter and see people walking around with black, smudgy crosses on their foreheads.  “That’s so . . . weird,” I would think to myself.  What does it mean?  Why do they do that?  Once I was welcomed into the Lutheran church, and began to participate in Ash Wednesday and the whole of the Lenten season, there were still more questions than answers.  Why do we celebrate our mortality?  Is it better to give up things (fast from foods or behaviors) or to add things in (more prayer, almsgiving, worship attendance)?  Can anyone really do both?

Historically, Lent has shifted its meaning over the centuries of Christianity.  In its early years, it is thought that days were counted backwards from Easter, days that would be devoted to continuous prayer and fasting as a way to prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection.[1]  First it was two or three, and then an entire week to orient oneself to the revelation and mystery of Easter.  Since the Vigil of Easter (the service that usually falls on a Saturday evening and includes a re-telling of the history of God’s work as recounted in both the Old and New Testaments) has historically been the time that people are baptized into the faith, another thought is that Lent developed as a formal marking of that time of preparation.  This period usually lasted between three and six weeks, and was a time for new converts (and those who had been excommunicated and desired to return to the church) to be taught the doctrines and rituals central to the Christian faith.[2]  Over time, those who were already “baptized or confirmed would observe Lent as a time of renewal in sympathy with those being initiated and re-welcomed.”[3]

This year at St. Paul we have put together a variety of ways that you, too, can re-affirm those aspects of our faith that center you in the redeeming work of God.  Whether you are someone who likes getting daily devotions in your email, reading the wisdom of other Christian thinkers in a Lenten devotional book, taking a deep dive with the Bible, or finding ways to give to those in need, I encourage you to check out our Lent 2019 flyer for new inspirations.

One Lenten activity that we are excited about this year is participating in Lent Madness.  Ten years ago, Episcopal Priest the Rev. Tim Schenck wanted to combine his love of Saints with his love of sports.  Lent Madness is the church’s equivalent to March Madness – the NAACP Basketball tournament that finds everyone around the globe crafting brackets to see who will be the champion.  This is, admittedly, a practice that carries with it more levity than your usually Lenten offerings, but it is a wonderful way to get the whole family involved in learning more about the saints that the church commemorates.  Below is an article from the website for Lent Madness, and we will have the materials available starting this Sunday.

Lent still has mystery for me.  It is a time for reflection, centering, action, and community.  The season has concrete elements of devotion – the ways in which we deepen the practices of our faith.  And yet as we acknowledge our humanity and its finitude, we know that as an Easter people we believe that death does not have the final word.  Today, when I see those black and smudgy crosses – now a plenitude of them gazing back at me from the congregation on ash Wednesday - I see what lies beneath them – the crosses placed on our foreheads at baptism shining out from behind the dark edges of mortality; the affirmation that we are sealed with Christ and that God is with us always.

[1] Eric T. Myers, “The Recovery and Refocusing of Lent:  A Time for Baptism Preparation and Discipleship Renewal,” Journal for Preachers (Lent 2006), 10.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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