My experience of the Christian liturgical year – the way is which time is marked by the remembrance of the life of Christ and Christ’s church – did not begin until I was out of graduate school. Up until that point, I had been raised in a house where my parents expressed that every day was the Lord’s day and every Sunday was an Easter experience. That’s a pretty good way to view time, but I was interested in exploring what celebrating time expressed in the Christian church year might add to my faith.
I embraced Advent wholeheartedly. The themes of preparation and anticipation that pervade Advent were a joy to celebrate.. I put out all of my crèches on the first Sunday of Advent. As our children grew, we began each morning by opening a small door in our advent calendar and every Sunday, we gathered around our Advent wreath, singing hymns and reading the Bible . (Okay, we probably cheated a little and sang Christmas hymns as well as the Advent tunes, but we were trying!) The sense of hope that accompanied that truth that God entered the world in love lent itself to activities of service, of sharing, of community. Advent is still my favorite season of the church year.
And I actually find Ordinary Time – that period of time between Pentecost and Christ the King Sunday on the last Sunday before Advent – to be a helpful way to reflect on the life of faith in the daily small thoughts and actions that make up most of our life and of the church community that helps shape me.
Lent, however, has always been a much harder season for me. How do you explain to your children a time that begins with a cross of ashes on your forehead and an emphasis on your mortality?. Memories of my childhood Catholic friends who were always giving something up made Lent seem like something to grit your teeth and get through. Let’s get to Easter already. Now THAT is something to celebrate!
But I have come to realize how important it is to recognize this time….to recognize the limits of my life, the reality of my frequently feeble faith, and my dependence on the grace and forgiveness of a loving God. This time that can seem to focus on suffering and sorrow and failure and fear begins with receiving the ashes that mark me as Christ’s own. That mark reminds me of Christ’s journey and my call to follow. And it also comes with the promise that Christ’s claim and love brings forgiveness, strength and guidance for all the days of my life.
The church year follows the shape of Christ’s life and calls me to shape my life accordingly. So I cannot ignore this time, even as I struggle to decide each year how I will honor and live into its meaning. Do I give something up as a small recognition of sacrifice, or do I add a new spiritual practice that can deepen my experience of God’s faithfulness? Do I focus on repentance, or choose new ways to share our monetary gifts? Do I pray more or act more? (If you ask yourself the same question, you might look at our Lent 2013 page which offers some ideas for how you might live into Lent.) Lent may never be my ‘favorite’ season of the church year, but trying to experience and reflect on its themes of mortality, repentence, baptism and service, make the alleluia of Easter ring loudly when that day arrives!
How do you live the days of Lent?
(On the first Sunday after arriving in Richmond, GPPC was the first stop on what was to be the’ choose a church’ tour. Ann and Bob never got to the second stop and have been worshipping here for nearly 30 years. )