“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent…” (Book of Common Prayer)
The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and turning toward God, beginning on Ash Wednesday, and winding through 40 days (not counting Sundays) before the celebration of Easter. Lent, dating back to the first half of the 4th century, is among the earliest observances by the Church. (For comparison, Christmas took until well into the 7th century before it was widely celebrated.)
Lent, which means springtime, was originally a season of preparation for new converts to Christianity. During this time, those known as catechumens were instructed in the faith and encouraged to commit themselves to fasting and prayer to ready their hearts for Baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter.
Over the centuries Lent has taken on a wider application, inviting those already baptized and committed to Christian identity to turn again into faith with a time of fasting, prayer, and repentance. At Easter, we recall and reaffirm our baptismal vows with those newly joining the household of God.
I have sojourned for many years with a conflicted attitude about Lent. At times, I’m ambivalent about it – understanding the season’s significance but missing its gifts; annoyed by the inconveniences of discipline, contrition, and penitence and blind to the possibilities of new hope and new life. In other years, I’ve outright dreaded Lent: sometimes from an outsized attachment to sin in my life and other times due to personal busy-ness, preoccupations, and stubborn resistance to being quiet and living simply.
This year is different. I’m craving the simplicity, the discipline, and the course-correction that comes in this holy season. I need Lent this year like I can’t remember ever needing it. I desire to sit with my mortality, my moral entailments; and the places of brokenness in my life and in the world around me. I yearn to confess my weakness, my insufficiency, and my desperation. I need to do all of this, not for the sake of wallowing or sinking deeper into despair, but precisely because of a deep longing within me for Easter. I seek to become a person who can and will embrace resurrection with true openness, wide wonder, and new hope.
On Ash Wednesday, the celebrant will invite us to observe a holy Lent with the words above. We are invited to live into this season of turning--from sin and evil in the world, toward hope, beauty, and new and abundant life.
The Rev. Scott Painter, Rector