Ash Wednesday is tomorrow and it signals the beginning of Lent. I’ll be participating in a Lenten observance again this year, and I’m looking forward to this time of renewal. In addition to the few “indulgences” that I’ll be giving up this spring, I also plan to read Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. That’s right, the very same book I read for Lent last year, and the year before that. The familiar repetition of Lent is something I have come to appreciate, and I am hopeful that this book will likewise become a familiar companion for me in the years to come.
As you can see from the cover, it is a collection of readings from Christian writer/thinkers spanning most of the church’s history. Some other contributors include, Kathleen Norris, Thomas a Kempis, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, Kahil Gibran, Jurgen Moltmann, Wendel Berry, Mother Teresa, to name a few. Here are some thoughts to consider from the opening pages…
First popularized in the fourth century, Lent is traditionally associated with penitence, fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. It is a time for “giving things up” balanced by “giving to” those in need. Yet whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose – an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. No wonder one liturgy refers to it as “this joyful season.”
Put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In him – in his suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph – we find our truest joy.
Such joy is costly, however. It arises from the horror of our sin, which crucified Christ. This is why Meister Eckhart points out that those who have the hardest time with Lent are “the good people.” Most of us are willing to give up a thing or two; we may also admit our need for renewal. But to die with Christ?
Of course, for many a Lent observance is too much “religion” for their taste. My hope is that taking part in this decidedly outward, structured, formal religious observance will produce a change in me that the wishful-thinking, go with the flow, heart-felt, spiritual sentimentality of our day seems entirely incapable of producing.
If you have a desire to take part in an Ash Wednesday service and don’t have a place to do so, you are welcome to join us at Fellowship North tomorrow at 7am, noon, or 6pm for a brief (30 minutes) time of reflection, liturgy, and marking with ash.