How is your Lent going? I am loving the changes to our Sunday liturgy . . . the Decalogue (subplot: the sung response was composed by our own Cory Warden!), the adult crucifers and child communion servers, and especially the silence after the sermon. What are you enjoying? What are you missing?
This past Sunday, we ended communion singing Blessed Be Your Name. Our musicians are so thoughtful in the way they read the scriptures, pray, and prepare the Sunday setlist — I trust and appreciate their process. So when I saw that Beth had chosen this upbeat early 2000s praise song as our final song, I thought, "Hmm. Not very Lenty. But I trust Beth, and I'm curious to see how God moves through that on Sunday."
And on Sunday, I loved ending on this high note of blessing God's name in every circumstance. It was a wonderful reminder to me that this — worshiping God, enjoying his presence — is the point of all the Lenten lentyness. We do not give up and pare down and strip away for its own sake, but to enlarge our capacity for God. Sundays in Lent are still feast days, and every Sunday of the church year (no matter the season) is a "little Easter" — a foretaste of the resurrection, a feast of joy.
This year's Lenten lectionary brings us four Sundays of readings from John's gospel, which started with Sunday's Nicodemus story. These four readings record surprising encounters with Jesus in which he calls people to new ways of thinking and being and seeing in the world. They are invitations to newness. For those of us who may feel like we are trying and failing at "giving up" for Lent, perhaps this is a helpful shift in our thinking. Where is Jesus inviting us to newness? How is he inviting us afresh to think or see or be in some area of our life, or our world?
We are approaching 3-year anniversary of the then-unthinkable pandemic lockdown, when church moved online and our lives all changed so dramatically. Sometimes amidst the appearance of "back to normal," we forget what a significant thing we have all lived through and how it has impacted us all, and those impacts are still surfacing. In many ways, these three years have felt like one incredibly long Lent.
And perhaps it's the collective weariness of these three years, but this Lent, I find myself freshly drawn to the grace, beauty, and resurrection life of God. I have experienced a deep need to not just read and think about the steadfast love of God, but to behold it — to set things before my eyes that are beautiful and draw me to praise. And so this year in Lent, I have been "adding on" far more than I am "giving up." I've resumed an old practice of writing a haiku every Friday (join me! 5-7-5 syllables - nothing could be simpler!). I've made a point of taking a weekly birding walk to fill my lungs with fresh air and commune with God among my favorite migratory species. This year's early spring is helping me see signs of resurrection everywhere, breaking out from grayed branches and hardened soil.
I share these practices simply to suggest other ways of walking through Lent beyond the traditions of prayer, fasting, and giving (all of which I still heartily commend!). Perhaps you, like me, find yourself needing ways to step into God's newness a little differently this year. You may not write haikus or go bird-watching (because, well, I'm kind of weird) but I hope you will find your imagination stirred toward practices that facilitate your own encounters with God's grace and beauty.
Three years ago, the last in-person event we held before moving church online was a Lenten prayer retreat. We didn't yet know that COVID was airborne, so we were maskless but gloved as we moved between prayer stations. A sense of foreboding and distraction hung in the air. At the end of our time, Hannah (who has since married and moved to Boston) taught us a benediction from our childhood church, which we sang just before departing. I remember feeling surprised to step into the sunlight and realize that despite the world falling apart, the daffodils were blooming.
And they are again. God is waking up the world as he has always done, as he will one day do fully, completely, forever. Here's that benediction (sung to the tune of "Morning Has Broken"):
New life has bloomed here,
God's love has warmed us;
Now the world calls us
To go spread that love.
God's peace go with you.
May it sustain you,
Ad bring us together
To praise God again.
"Blessed be the name of the Lord" indeed!
A few quick reminders:
- Interested in practicing confession with me or Katie this Lent, perhaps for the first time? Read more about it in my Ash Wednesday letter and please reach out to schedule a time or to ask questions.
- We will accept new members on Easter! If you're interested, email me!
- We will have a brief parish meeting on March 26 after the service - mark your calendars!
- Please pray for our kids in sacramental formation this Lent, some of whom are preparing for their first communion, and all of whom we hope will grow to abide more deeply in Jesus, the True Vine: Markus, Charlotte, Hattie, Teddy, Manu, Asher, Elisa, Inez, and Jack.
Grace and peace to you this Lent,