Unexpected Joy in Lent

Pastoral Reflections

As it approached time for our abridged service last night, I had mixed feelings. There was a sense of sadness that this Ash Wednesday service, my first at TLC, would be so stripped down. The Ash Wednesday service is a powerful liturgy with handles that usher us into a humble and penitent Lent. I was fully aware that the service would miss some significant elements. I was also aware that our parishioners understood that. Therefore, on the other hand, as soon as I began to see those of us who could make it begin to come in the doors even for the short minutes of a service together, a certain joy overtook me. It was great and deep, there was a melting in my soul. The power of seeing over forty of us gather to inhabit that space and to receive ashes to ourselves in the midst of the week’s travails made this Ash Wednesday powerful for me – in an unexpected way. By way of a confession, I broke protocol. Ash Wednesday services often conclude in silence as people depart. Yesterday, I couldn’t. I didn’t announce it. I wanted people to greet and I wanted to greet and talk with people.

By the time we gathered last night, the heat was a bit better in the sanctuary. However, when I worked on a shortened version of the service, the temperature in the sanctuary was around 36-40, and we planned with that in mind. So much had to be omitted to make it very short. One was the Call to the Observance of a Holy Lent. It is that part of the service where we respond to the invitation to Lent. I want to end this reflection with that Call from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Dear People of God: 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 continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now [humble ourselves] before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”