I was recently invited to blog on the Cathedral website and on the Cathedral’s prayer blog, Prayer for Liverpool (www.prayerforliverpool.org). I thought that I would also share it with the readers of my own blog as well.
If you’re like me, and you have been known to look far too ahead in the calendar every now and again, then perhaps you, also like me, have been somewhat troubled by the fast approaching season of Lent on 17 February. My first reaction when I realized that Lent was so close was, What? Lent is beginning? I thought it never ended!
Lent is a time, according to the Book of Common Prayer 1979 of the Episcopal Church, USA (BCP 1979), for: “self-examination and repentance… prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and… reading and meditating on God’s holy word” (p. 264). By this definition, then, the changes to our world, our communities, and particularly our Churches are not synonymous with an extended Lenten observance—despite what I may have felt.
Lent is an opportunity to observe a discipline (giving up chocolate, making time for prayer, donating to charity, etc.) for its own sake. Lent, rather, is a means to an end. Again, let me quote the BCP 1979: “The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians have to renew their repentance and faith” (pp. 264-265).
So Lent, then, is a time of preparation for the solemn and holy observances of Holy Week and Easter. It is a time of discernment for those wishing to enter the Church. It is a time for profound repentance for wrongs committed to others. And it is time of a reminder of our need as Christians continually to repent, and to hold fast to the faith.
Lent is not, then, an extended period of not being able to meet together due to a highly contagious and deadly virus. Covid-19 is not a punishment for the sins of the world, or for the existence of religions other than Christianity. It is not a personal return from the Almighty for the sins of our own pasts. The austerity and profundity of denial associated with Lent may seem to have been extended beyond last Spring. But Lenten discipline is not suffering for its own sake, or suffering under the situation in which we all find ourselves. Lent is about the heart. About what taking a fearless moral inventory of where we are in relation to God and those around us. And is particularly set aside for correcting what may be in need of correction. Lent is a time for us, pandemic or not, to consider how we might better show the light of Christ in the world, which we have been contemplating in this season of Epiphany. Lent is for glad apologies and purposeful amendments.
Now having said that, that doesn’t mean we haven’t suffered during the pandemic. We have. Some of us who are key workers are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Others who are shielding are facing isolation and loneliness for almost a year. And those who are in need in regular times find their need compounded by the inability to cover bills or find help.
Lent’s invitation to us is a time to prepare ourselves to meet our Saviour at the cross. Who better to show us the broken reality of the world than our Lord and Saviour, who in his death on the cross not only gave us hope, but an honest testimony to the severity of the world whose power we are called to resist by keeping that hope alive. Christ gives us hope that the suffering of the present is not going to be the final word on our future.
So. Lent 2021. What’s a Christian to do? We could start by considering ways in which we aren’t doing so well. Even at home, we can worship God, we can support our neighbours, we can contribute to good in the world, we can care for ourselves, and give all of that and more a trial run or rethink if need be. We can face the reality of the crucified and risen Saviour with more depth and seriousness if we have prepared for it deeply and seriously. We can more closely follow the pattern of our Saviour when we try to follow his example of shedding light in the darkness.
So, as the BCP says, “I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent…” (p. 265).
Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!
Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.