By David Pennington, Pastoral Associate for Liturgy
“What are we doing for Lent this year?” It’s the question that probably makes me the most uncomfortable in my ministry as the Pastoral Associate for Liturgy here at Holy Trinity. I hope the question means to ask, “What are we going to do by way of music and environment/decoration, ritual and celebration to enter more deeply into the season we celebrate?” But even that’s a generous retranslation of the original question. You see, what we are doing for Lent (or any liturgical season) misses the point of the season. We don’t do anything for Lent. Lent does us.
This week we start, one more time, our forty day journey toward Easter. Undoubtedly, many of us will use this time to undertake some additional spiritual practice or work of mercy. Some of us will empty the cupboard of chocolate, close tightly the bottle of scotch, or try the Whole 30 (or 40!) one more time. But if we focus only on the doing, on only our activity to be holier, skinnier, or more ready for Easter, we’ll miss Lent. This week we start, one more time, from the end of our journey to look to the beginning. Ash Wednesday is a grim way to start our journey to Easter. It’s a reminder of our mortality, that we are of the earth and will return to it one day.
But, as T.S. Eliot writes in the Four Quartets, “the end of our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time.” We start this season with dry ashes on our heads only to end it by bathing in the waters of baptism and anointing our heads with perfumed chrism, the oil of salvation. We begin this journey from the end to remember that the end of our exploring is not what we immediately perceive, that our lives as Christians will end, not with death, but in eternal glory with God.
This week we start, one more time, not at our own prompting or initiative, but God’s. It is God who calls us into the mystery of living as chosen sons and daughters and realizing more deeply what that means as we accompany one another on this journey and act as leaven in the world. And it is through the Liturgy that God invites us into the mysteries of life and death, suffering and glory, despair and hope. We don’t have to do it ourselves. Ashes, palms, water, oil, bread, wine, and word are waiting to serve as invitations into the Lent God has prepared for us.
So, what are we doing for Lent? We will celebrate the Liturgy in its fullness. And maybe come Easter, we will realize Lent has provided a time for God to change us, call us to conversion, prepare our hearts, heal our souls, and remind us that it is from the end we start, if only to see it new for the first time.