It may sound weird to some, but I LOVE Lent. I love solemnity, the seriousness, the heaviness. I love the intense look inward, not to boast, but to admit that we have no reason for boasting. The stripping away of pretense. Purple is also my favorite color. I love seeing purple everywhere. Most of all I love the focus on the cross. Lent also hasn’t been co-opted by the larger culture the way Advent and Christmas have, although the Easter Bunny does sit for pictures in our local mall. Can anyone PLEASE tell me where the tradition of that blasted bunny comes from? (Nothing against bunnies in general, but the Easter bunny, don’t get me started…)
I love how worship changes in Lent. I love how we have to work at NOT saying/singing Alleluia. So much of our worship shifts to stay away from that expression of praise. You know what that means? That means normally our worship is filled with it! And I miss it when it’s gone. It’s like suddenly not being able to say or hear “I love you” to/from a loved one. That makes the Easter Vigil or Easter morning service all the more joyous when we say and sing it over and over and over!
I also love NOT hearing absolution. It doesn’t feel good, I yearn for it, I yearn to speak it as a pastor, I yearn for the people to hear it proclaimed, so I am overcome with gratitude when it finally comes at the Easter Vigil or Easter morning worship. Some congregations omit confession altogether. In my congregation, we still say the confession, but instead of hearing a pastoral absolution, we receive a general assurance – definitely NOT the same as hearing, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s like not being able to say or hear the Alleluia. It doesn’t mean we aren’t forgiven, that God is holding out on us, but hearing absolution spoken is freeing on a bodily level that’s hard to explain – the weight lifted off our shoulders (by the weight that Jesus bore on his shoulders on the cross). Thank you Jesus!
I love the hymnody of Lent. Again, it may sound strange to some, but the hymns, just like the readings, tell it like it is – we sin, we cannot come to God through our own merits, we need Jesus. We are nothing. He is everything. Some of my favorite Lenten hymns are: Savior When in Dust to You, My Song is Love Unknown, Were You There?, In The Cross of Christ I Glory, Beneath The Cross of Jesus, and O Sacred Head Now Wounded. You get the idea. I have a lot! “Upon the cross of Jesus, my eye at times can see, the very dying form of one who suffered there for me. And from my contrite heart, with tears, two wonders I confess: the wonder of his glorious love, and my unworthiness” (Beneath the Cross of Jesus, verse 2). In the congregation I serve we sing the hymn of the day before the sermon, and after we sing one of these hymns I feel like standing up and saying, “The hymn said it all folks. Let’s just move on to the creed.” Of course I don’t, but these hymns are hard to follow!
I love palm crosses. Ok, this may be a little superficial, but each year after worship is over on Palm Sunday, I stay after worship and show anyone who wants how to make a palm cross. I learned from my pastoral internship supervisor many years ago, and I love to pass it on. The kids think it’s a cool new trick, and some of the older folks with arthritic hands can’t manage it, so I’m happy to make a cross for them. People are very attached to the palms of Palm Sunday. They’ll have me make extras so they can bring them to friends or family that don’t even go to church. In my home we keep them for the whole year.
I love the Triduum – Latin for three days. The Triduum is Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil. Maundy Thursday when we celebrate Jesus giving us his body and blood in Holy Communion and remember his washing the disciples’ feet. Good Friday when we remember his suffering and death. The Easter Vigil when we begin in somber darkness and exit in joy. It’s a marathon for worship leaders/planners, (and for those in the pews too!) but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lent is a time when we confront our need for Jesus. We pay special attention to how he pushed the envelope in his earthly ministry and his journey to the cross. We change the way we do things to show reverence and to help us focus, but also to keep us awake, so that we don’t take our worship and lives of faith for granted or think we know it all and have perfected this Christian walk. We take a deep look at our faith and our life and realize how short we have fallen from where we should be – indeed that we can never measure up – which is why we desperately need Jesus. It’s a wake up call each one of us needs, so that when Easter arrives we may greet the empty tomb with energy, and yes, LIFE!!!