In the early church people preparing for baptism, called catechumens, would spend 40 days fasting, praying, and meeting daily to learn the Christian faith. Eventually, as a show of solidarity, the rest of the church began fasting with them. Lent, the old English word for “Springtime”, became, as bishop Nick Knisely calls it, “the Spring Training of the Christian life.” It is an apt analogy: Spring Training is where baseball players try to break bad habits in their swing from the previous season or try out a new pitch. In Spring Training players hone skills for the regular season. And Opening Day, Ash Wednesday, is this week.
How can you maximize the opportunity our spiritual Spring Training presents?
Ash Wednesday: The tradition is to begin Lent by fasting until you go to church for the imposition of ashes to “remember you are dust” and holy communion. We break our fast in Holy Eucharist. Attend an Ash Wednesday service!
Personal Devotion: During the forty days of Lent we adopt personal Lenten devotions: either giving up a bad habit or adopting a new spiritual discipline. One act of personal devotion you might engage in: Attend a Lenten Study. Ours is Anglican Faith – 5 Centuries of Prayer Practices.
Corporate Worship: If you count, you will notice there are more than 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter. That is because Sundays are not part of Lent. The celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord is always a holiday! Even though we do not maintain Lenten fasts on Sundays in Lent, we do mark our worship with reminders of our time of preparation to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. We eliminate the word “alleluia”, exchange flowers for greenery, and clergy wear cassock and surplice (which looks like the black robe worn by Keanu Reaves in the movie The Matrix), rather than an alb (white robe) and chasuble (the poncho the priest wears during communion).
Many Anglican churches add penitential beginnings to worship services and the Gospel readings in Lent are from the “four encounters with Jesus,” readings in the Gospel of John the early church taught the catechumens.
Why go to all this work? In order to remind our wandering hearts of our deep need for a savior. Lent reminds us that our need for redemption is not just theory, but an objective reality. Lent is 40 days of turning from – the bible calls that “repentance.” But Lent is also 40 days of looking toward – toward God’s deliverance. Thomas Merton said, “The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.” Staring at our inability is the ultimate act of hope when it drives us into the arms of the one who is able. It is only when we recognize our need…recognize, as the prayer book says, “that we do not come to this thy table O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies” (BCP, 337) that we open our hearts and minds to experience the transforming power of God in our lives purchased at the Cross and proved by the Resurrection.
Spring Training is here. Batter up!