In January I invited a group of clergy colleagues over to St. Matthew’s for lunch to help me rethink Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday (March 9) with the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads and the reminder that “you are dust and to dust you shall return,” Lent is a season in which Christians, in the words of Peter Hawkins, go into their hearts “with a flashlight.” We look at what’s stored there, and especially for items that need to be removed. We intentionally tell the truth about our lives and our relationship with God and God’s world. Lent is also a season in which we seek reconciliation and healing. It is traditionally a time of penitence and confession. The church colors turn to purple, the alleluias disappear, and we ask God for forgiveness and mercy.
My reasons for organizing a “rethinking Lent” luncheon were many. I’m not sure that we have done a good job translating the important themes of the season into language and imagery that people can understand and relate to. The meeting with my colleagues was incredibly life-giving. All of us agreed that we need to do the work of translation. We cannot assume that new Christians and Episcopalians, let alone long time ones, know what Lent is really about. I think most Christians are more aware of their shortcomings and separation from God than the fact that they are God’s beloved. My intuition tells me that God can more readily bring transformation in our lives when we know we are loved unconditionally and feel hopeful about the future
To this end, Lent 2011 at St. Matthew’s will stress the following themes and metaphors: “choose life,” spring cleaning (letting God help us get rid of the internal junk and cobwebs so God’s light can get in), pilgrimage, and the relationship between what we do in worship and our daily lives. The tone, as captured so beautifully these past couple of years by the Kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy”) and Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) from the Mass of Forgiveness, will be reflective and hopeful. In Lent God calls us into a season of deep introspection and truth telling, and we are able to do this because we know that God has our best interests at heart. God calls us to draw close in love to God and others so that we can experience abundant life and invite others into it.
The main liturgical change this year is that we will no longer use the penitential order at the beginning of the service (the penitential order includes the Ten Commandments and confession). I’m not convinced that that the penitential order created more introspection or a greater intimacy between God and the gathered congregation. Instead, we will begin the service with opening sentences from the Iona Abbey community in Scotland that enable us to reflect together on the Lenten themes of the day. This will be in place of the Collect for Purity (Almighty God to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid . .”).
The rest of the service will remain the same – Eucharistic Prayer “C” which focuses on God’s work in and through creation and is interactive, communion at the high altar, Taize music and simpler chants and songs during communion. The preaching will focus on different parts of the service – the reading of scripture, the sermon, the creed, confession and absolution, and the blessing and dismissal – and how they relate to our daily lives and vocations in the world.
I encourage you to make time each Sunday to come early for prayer before the service. Let us all work together to make the church a quiet and reflective space for those preparing their hearts and minds for worship. Each Sunday we hope to have a different church musician play some sort of contemplative music beginning at 10:20 to help us center and focus. I will also be adding a short silence before the confession.
Will we thus capture a more reflective and hopeful spirit this Lent? I hope so! Please join me for a wondering conversation about worship and specifically St. Matthew’s Lenten worship at the April 10 Faith Forum at 9:15 in the Library. I would love to learn more about how you are experiencing our Lenten worship, and what parts of the service enable you to experience the living God.
My prayer this Lent is that God will break open our hearts and minds so that we can see and experience God’s love and movement in our lives and world. Lent and Holy week highlight and enable us to explore the paschal mystery, the constant dying to self and rising to new life that is at the heart of the Christian journey.