Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Guest Post: "Accepting Lent"

I did not grow up in a congregation that gave any attention to Lent.  Easter just seemed – to my childhood mind – to happen without any rhyme or reason. Sometimes it came in March, sometimes in April.  I couldn’t understand why the church couldn’t get it straight, Christmas came every year on December 25, why couldn’t Easter get a regular date?

As I grew, and my world view enlarged beyond family and church family – who did not observe Lent – I became aware of people, all of whom seemed to be Catholic, who talked about giving things up “for Lent.”  Once again confusion reigned.  I couldn’t get the connection between church and not eating chocolate…my Christian Education had not involved proclamation of any commandments prohibiting a basic food group!

My college years led me to worship in different types churches (yes, I was a church nerd in college, mailed home the bulletin from the worship service I attended each week).  I became drawn to churches that moved through the liturgical year: Advent, Epiphany, Christmas, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost...Advent, Epiphany….  The story of the faith began to organize in my mind:  Preparation/ Advent, Celebration of God’s gift of God’s very self/Christmas, Illumination/Epiphany, Preparation/Lent, Celebration of the Resurrection/Eastertide, Empowerment/Pentecost. As the cycle moved in that order, year after year, it gave focus to growing discipleship. I began to see that those things in my faith that were celebrated, that brought illumination and that brought empowerment, those things were best recognized and embraced when punctuated with periods of preparation.

I began to understand that Lent brought value in its emphasis on preparation, but as a seminary student I began to embrace the truth that Lent is a gift.  At a midweek Lenten service in a downtown Richmond church, the guest preacher was a nationally known speaker, William Sloan Coffin.  I attended because of the “big name,” but left moved by his message. His scripture was the story of the woman with the issue of the blood who tried to reach out, anonymously, to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be healed (Mark 5:25-34).  Jesus was in a crowd, she did touch his hem, she was healed, and then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?”  His disciples were astounded by the question, a crowd had been touching him, yet he asked about one person?!?  Rev. Coffin asked, ”Why – among all the people touching him – was only one person transformed?”  He suggested that in that crowd it was only the woman who wanted a life changing connection with Jesus.  The others wanted to be close, to be part of the excitement, but they didn’t want to change their lives.  They knew what to expect in their old lives, they knew what was expected of them.  Fear and doubts of the change Christ promised prevented them from making a connection.  Coffin ended the sermon with an admonition I have never forgotten, “What shall we give up for Lent?  Let’s give up our fears and doubts!”  Coffin’s admonition transformed Lent for me, it was more than a season of preparation for the next big holy day, it became the gift of a season of preparation for the big, holy thing that God was working to accomplish through me – if I would just give up my fears and doubts and trust where God was leading. 

I confess that I need more than Lent’s 40 days to focus on giving up my fears and doubts and opening myself up to God’s new thing, this is an ongoing task!  Yet, I am thankful for the season of Lent, it is a gift of focused discipline in which a few more fears and doubts are pried loose and space is opened to God’s gracious mercy.  I didn’t grow up with Lent, but it now nourishes my soul.

P.S.  Something else I learned in seminary:  Easter does come the same time every year!  It is always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox.  (As established by the Council of Nicaea in 325.)

Jane is one of the Associate Pastors at Sardis. She is a native of Mecklenburg County, grew up on a farm and has milked a cow!  She is married to Mark, a Chicago native, who works for Bank of America.  They have two children; a  son, Peter, who has completed his Master’s degree in Structural Engineering and is working with a Structural Engineering firm (Arup) in Houston, TX, and a daughter, Lydia, will graduate in May from NC State with a major in social work

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