“Return to the LORD, your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Dear Redeemer Family:
Interestingly, the national Church this year is calling the Season of Lent, “A Season of Restrained Celebration.” That is not by any stretch of the imagination what most of us think of when we think of Lent. What does come to mind for people when they think of Lent? It might be repentance or giving things up or a focus on the cross. For some it brings to mind a heavy-handed season of inward focus that feels dark. For others it has been experienced as a time for excessive guilt. It is not uncommon for Lent to be a six-week meditation on the crucifixion, as if Holy Week and especially Good Friday weren’t enough for the Church’s deep contemplation on Jesus’ death. Not everyone loves Lent because of how it has been observed in some times and places. Our practice should change such negative attitudes so that Lent can be a high point of the Church Year for the faithful.
In spite of all the baggage that some people still bring to the season, Lent can become a time of celebration. That may sound strange and unexpected, but hear me out. The key is that the celebration is restrained, is expressed in subdued and anticipatory ways, and is geared toward preparing to celebrate with exuberant joy the Divine paschal mystery at Easter. Lent is a season of fasting, and fasting is about a discipline of restraint so that one can celebrate more deeply and extravagantly something wonderful later. But even in that time of preparation, the joy that is to come is known now! This is Lent! Since Sundays in Lent are feast days and not fast days (Properly speaking Sundays are not part of the Season of Lent. You hear that when I announce the Gospel lesson. I don’t say, “The Holy Gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.” Rather I say, “The Holy Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Lent.” Every Sunday is a mini-celebration of Easter. So, they are all feast days.), and the celebration of Holy Communion is always appropriate, they are the perfect time to express a sense of restrained celebration and anticipatory joy.
Consider the origins of Lent: a time of intense preparation for baptism at Easter. What could be more joyful than to prepare for one’ life to be transformed into a new life in Christ? Yet, Lent was for preparation and expectation, not the full expression of celebration and joy. The disciplines and rituals of preparation all say to the baptismal candidate: get ready, God is about to do something wonderful in you through the death and resurrection of Christ at baptism!
This year, the Wednesday night Lenten Services will all indicate this in some way: God deliverance of us by some wonderful act; leading to a time to celebrate. I hope to see you all there.
In Christ, Pastor Rose