Lenten Reflection: How Does Lent Look Different If I Remember What I Am Preparing For?

April 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Chi Rho with a wreath symbolizing the victory of the Resurrection, above Roman soldiers, c. 350Full disclosure: I struggle with Lent. I think I like it; I want to like it! But every year when Ash Wednesday rolls around and I remember how hard it is to observe a Holy Lent, my enthusiasm quickly vanishes. So this year I’m trying a new tactic.

I’ve been doing some research lately on the evolution of the Holy Week liturgies and was quite struck by the discovery that, in the Early Church (1st-2nd century), there was only one, unitive celebration of Easter. Everything that we now associate with Lent, Holy Week, and Easter was somehow wrapped up into a single, several day long celebration. As the Church grew and developed, early Christians seemed to realize that the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection was too awesome to be contained within a single observance. So they developed new rites, rites we now know as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Eventually, our forebears decided that even this wasn’t enough, that there was still more mystery to be appreciated and more preparation to be done. And so we got Lent as a sort of backwards outgrowth of Easter, a period of forty days to wrap our hearts and minds around the awesome mystery of Passion and Resurrection.

It was certainly not news to me that Lent is intended as a season of preparation for Easter, but my foray into liturgical history made that statement come alive for me in new ways. Lent is a means to an end, not an end in itself. We don’t fast to punish ourselves or prove our superior piety (always a danger, especially when one hangs out with a few dozen fellow priests in training…). Lent would be purposeless if it weren’t for its climactic ending on Easter Day. So my guiding question this Lent has been: “  What changes when I keep the Resurrection in mind?” The short answer is that Lent has been a lot less gloomy. I have come to see the structure and discipline of the season as a way to make space, almost like cleaning house before the arrival of beloved guests. The work is made less tedious by the knowledge of what awaits.

– Kristin Saylor

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