Lent: Preparing for Resurrection
This is a continuation of our article from two weeks ago.
Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51:1-3)
Psalm 51, often read at Ash Wednesday services, introduces themes that echo throughout the Lenten season: repentance, renewal, and change. It also reminds us that God’s steadfast love and mercy follow us through our Lenten journey, even as we face the harsh realities of mortality and sin. Emmanuel Christian Seminary’s Professor of Church History, Dr. Paul Blowers remarks that Psalm 51 “is itself justification for focusing on an entire ‘season of repentance’ in advance of Easter …Lent prepares our hearts and minds, through prayer and fasting, to encounter yet again the Crucified Lord.” While this preparation often takes the form of fasting, it can also be an opportunity to incorporate new practices and disciplines into individual and congregational life. In their recent interviews with the MRC, Katy Lines and Derek Sweatman shared the different ways their congregations have observed Lent.
Lent prepares our hearts and minds, through prayer and fasting, to encounter yet again the Crucified Lord.
For Atlanta Christian Church, Lent is a time for Christians to engage honestly with our failings through practices of fasting and repentance. Sweatman describes the fasting practices built into Lent not as rigid rules we must perfect, but as “tripwires” to remind us “that we often fail and fall” as we follow Jesus. Sweatman elaborates, “Because Lent is often built around these rituals of fasting from things, I would say that Lent has become for us a season to remember that our human efforts at righteousness are not really successful.” Along the journey, we are guided and sustained by God’s love and mercy, beyond anything that we do. “We have a saying around here that goes: ‘No one wins Lent. Losing is the point.” That acknowledgement of our human limitations can often place us in a vulnerable position. “The season opens itself to discussions of struggle, fear, shame,” Sweatman describes, “and so we tend to prepare for that as we enter the season.” Because of this, he shares, a lot of pastoral care conversations tend to happen during Lent. This acknowledgement of our humanness ultimately leaves us open to God’s work in us, preparing us for Easter. Sweatman concludes, “I would say that Easter Sunday (and its full season) is appreciated more due to the groundwork of Lent.”
No one wins Lent. Losing is the point.
For Englewood Christian Church, Lent has become less about fasting and more about integrating new practices into the life of the congregation. Lines shares, “Lent is a time to try new things.” This year, particularly, Englewood is focusing on practices that intentionally bring the community together after the fragmentation and exhaustion of the past two years. One of the practices they are adopting is morning prayer on Zoom. Each day, individuals and families are invited to join a simple prayer time from their own homes as they prepare for work and school. Getting a group together at the church for prayer on weekday mornings, Lines shares, is often difficult, but the time on Zoom is a way to connect the congregation and introduce a daily, shared discipline. They will follow Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours, with a different person facilitating prayer each morning. Additionally, Englewood will share a monthly meal with members who attend both their English and Spanish services, and they will begin a tradition of Wednesday evening vespers. They hope these practices will not only prepare the congregation for Easter, but will also extend into the Easter season and beyond, becoming incorporated into the fabric of the community’s shared life.
Lent is a time to try new things.
This year, as in previous years, Atlanta Christian Church plans to follow the Revised Common Lectionary each Sunday. Sweatman appreciates the way the lectionary walks us through the important themes of Lent–repentance, grace, acknowledging our humanness–preparing us to meet the resurrected Christ on Easter morning. Similarly, Englewood currently follows the Narrative Lectionary, which journeys through the themes and stories of the Lenten season, ending with the passion and resurrection stories.
Both traditional fasting practices as well as practices of taking on new disciplines help us enact repentance. Metanoia, the Greek word for “repentance,” implies a turn or a change of one’s mind. In this light, repentance includes both giving up old habits and welcoming newness. These practices place us in postures of openness, ready to receive the new life promised through Christ on Easter Sunday.
The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has compiled a list of resources for congregations wanting to explore Lenten practices. The Revised Common Lectionary also provides a list of daily prayers and weekly slideshows.
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