I did not mean to do it. I did not make a Lenten promise or anything, it just kind of happened. It all began with snow. The snow on Transfiguration Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Lent. So I did a little blog entry and posted on the church Facebook page a brief devotional that sort combined the snow addled brain of one who had spent nearly 10 hour shoveling over the course of two days and the sermon I had prepared for that week. And then there was my family's annual pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday and our Church's Ash Wednesday service that cause me to think more, so I posted some thoughts about Ash Wednesday that had been spinning around in my head. I guess all that snow gave me a lot of time to think. So there it was it was the beginning Lent and I had posted twice, kind of like I had made a Lenten promise (as so many of my colleagues seem to have done) but it was coincidence. I went on vacation, which ruined my trend, but hey, I can fix that by coming back strong and posting here at the beginning of my week.
I spent my first full week of Lent on vacation at my parents house, which is an odd way to begin Lent. It was neither reflective or contemplative. It was full of cousins (there are 6 of them that live there close so there are 8 when I bring my two) playing, squealing, running, and of course arguing; sisterly laughter, hugs from my parents and good talks too. There was way too much food (my mother is an amazing cook -I know everyone's mother is but mine is especially so) and time spent around the table together. It was wonderful and rejuvenating.
But now I am back and Lent is in full swing. And my thoughts are much more serious. Lent is not a "fun" season. Not like the childlike anticipation like Lent (although Lent and Advent share the same liturgical color), the celebratory nature of the Christmas Season that follows or even the nice down time that we find during weeks that follow Epiphany. Lent is solemn, it is somber. It is a time to think about what it means to be fallen and human; a time to contemplate who we are, whose we are and where we stand in relationship to the Creator and Savior.It is a time of spiritual awareness; a time of spiritual awakening; a time during which we draw closer to God and allow God to draw closer to us.
It is a time of sacrifice. We give things up, we deprive our human selves of comforts and pleasures to remind ourselves of the import it is to say, "No," sometimes to the things we want. And in a strange way this "No," we learn, or at least remember during this season reminds us also how important it is to say, "Yes," to God, and to Godly things. We practice this by giving up, sacrificing things in our lives, chocolate, Tv, our favorite video game, lunch, meat, what ever we feel lead or our tradition suggests we should sacrifice. But it is more than just leaving things out of out lives, allowing that void to be filled with other mundane, different mundane things, in stead we fill the void made by these mundane things with Godly things, Godly practices. If we give up things which cost money we give the money to further the Kingdom of God, or to help those less fortunate than our selves. If we give up something that takes time,we give that time over to God, we spend more time in prayer,reading the Bible or doing acts of charity.
Theses sacrifices which we make during this season also serve as icons pointing us toward Christ. Much as the icons on your desktop are but crude representations showing you where you need to click to open a certain program, theses sacrifices serve as icons which show us Christ, which when clicked so to speak open us up to Christ in new and different ways allowing God to be opened up in our lives.
Lenten sacrifices are icons that take us to the cross, point us to Christ and the sacrifice he made for us there.all sacrifices, no matter how small are reflections of the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf on the cross.
Our sacrifice points us to the passion of Christ. Each time we feel the "pain," the "sting," the "desire" for these things we have given up during this time turn our minds to the cross, to Christ's passion, to Christ's death. We are reminded that the small amount of discomfort or displeasure we experience on God's behalf for this short time in our lives could never measure up to that which Christ endured on ours. Our sacrifices none-the-less point us to his sacrifice, our pain to his pain, our discomfort to his. He suffered that someday all suffering might be put to an end. He died that we might live abundantly. But also he rose that we might one day we might all rise as well.
I shared this a couple years ago and still remains true. I have a secret love a secret anticipation, tiny sense of hidden thrill that rises up within me as Lent begins. Thinking about it makes me nearly giddy inside. I am not thrilled or excited about fasting or praying or even the spiritual journey which we as the Church embark on together as we move through this season. I am fill with anticipation am becoming giddy because Lent, for me the 7 Sundays of Lent not only are a count down toward the Resurrection, the thought of which should fill any good Christian with excitement and giddy anticipation but sadly that is not it. (So my liturgically minded friends and colleagues, be not afraid, I am not jumping to the Resurrection before Lent has barely begun. I do know the proper order of things) These 7 Sundays are a count down toward the possibility of it being warm enough for us all to be wearing a bright flowered dresses. A 7 Sunday count down toward daffodils and hyacinths. 7 Sundays from lightweight jackets and long walks in refreshing air. 7 weeks perhaps even a little from Spring!
When I see the long week's of lent stretching out before me that are a path down which we trod together. When we embark on it is covered in snow, many times quite literally. It is a path which is flanked on both sides by dark brown bare trees looking cold and stark in the crisp clear winter air, reaching up their barren branches toward a good New England grey-white winter sky. But if you look down the path you can see that if we journey along it, it will take us away from the snow. A little ways down, the snow will melt. The path itself will become wet and muddy, filled with sloppy brown puddles. The clouds in the sky will part and the suns rays will begin to come through, cold at first but slowly warming. Soon as you walk down the path, you will begin to see buds on the bare trees, and the first of the new grass poking through. Somewhere along the path I will get to kneel down and put my hand in the dark rich earth which has finally been released from its frozen prison, I will lift my hand to my face and breath deeply of the ripe freshness of the earth, breathe in the smell of all the life that it holds and promises to bring. As the path approaches its culmination the crocuses are beginning to appear and the journey ends with an empty tomb surrounded by daffodils and hyacinths, willows with long green shoots and trees of all kinds bursting to bud. The is sun and grass and beginning of Spring and the earth exploding with light and life and love.
The date chosen to celebrate the Resurrection may fall on different calendar days each year, but I know that the Sunday chosen will always fall on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox. So No matter when we celebrate the Resurrection it will be Spring. So Lent is always a journey toward Spring, from the cold dark starkness if Winter to the new fresh, flourish of Spring
Yes, the journey of Lent, for me, is just as much a journey toward the Sun, flowers and warmth of Spring as it is a spiritual journey. It is a secret little joy that begins with the Ashen cross being drawn on my forehead, just as much as Lent begins with the same. Lent, the very idea of it makes me smile, hope and long for its somber beginning, because Lent will take me on my yearly journey toward Spring. But I have decided that my anticipation for Lent can't be all that bad, it can't be all that much out of character and out of place in this particular season in the Christian Calendar.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere the seasons of the Christian calendar coincide with the seasons of our year. The Season Easter is Spring and all things new, chicks in the nest, flowers in the beds, and spring rain on new green grass. The long season of Pentecost is the long hot Summer with watermelon, lemonade, kids running free like wild animals free to roam and explore and grow, fall is moving toward All Saints Sunday and Christ the King. Winter begins with Advent and Christmas and stretches long and cold between Epiphany and Transfiguration Sunday. And Lent is the season which not only brings us toward the Resurrection which all so for the Christian marks new life, new growth and a restoration of things, and it is also that latter part of the winter where world begins to thaw and we all move toward the promise of Spring and the new life it brings. Lent holds this place in our cycle is coincides with this time in our lives
I have lived most of my life marking church time with the Christian calendar, making my way through year, marking Sundays with the events of the life of Christ and the life of the Church. Following the Lectionary and the Christian calendar has resulted in me not just merely marking church life with the Christian Calendar, it has resulting me me not merely marking spiritual life or even just Church life with the Christian Calendar, but it has resulted in me marking all of life in this way. The life of my local congregation, the liturgical life of the Church, as well as physical seasons are marked by season of the Christian Calendar.
When I became a pastor and choose to move my church through the year using the Christian calendar, my reason was that in this way the Church is marking time using the life of Christ instead of secular celebrations and observances. The Church should mark time using Holy days and Godly celebrations. The Church is not the world, we do not need to mark time the way the world does.
It is a glorious thing to walk with a Body of believers through weeks, seasons, and years marking time in this manner. It shapes us forms us and defines us. But what is more glorious than that shaping, forming and definition extending outside the walls of the church reaching its holy arms into every part of our life. So Lent not only being a spiritual journey but Lent being a journey from winters' cold darkness into Spring's warm glow is just one of the many ways that truth God has found its way into every segment, every cranny and every crevice of my life, sanctifying all it and making all of it Holy.
The Christian calendar is not simply about the Holy Days and seasons of the church. It is not about changing the colors of the altar cloth on the right Sundays. It is about marking time, our years, our lives with the life of Christ. When we get to the point where the seasons of the Church define our whole lives and not just our spiritual lives, it is a way of allowing God to sanctify all of us, every part of us, every part of our lives making all of who we are, all of what we do and every moment of our life Holy.