Dean’s Letter: Lent

Hello St. Paul’s,

Yesterday we entered the holy season of Lent. You may have noticed that Lent begins on a different date every year: this is because its starting day (Ash Wednesday) is calculated backwards from Easter Day, and Easter is always on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox. Easter is on March 31, count back seven Sundays and then to the Wednesday before that, and you arrive at February 14. You will hear people mention the “40 days of Lent”, which is the length of Lent not counting the Sundays. Sundays are not part of Lent as they are always a celebration of the resurrection: that’s why you will see “the first Sunday IN Lent” and not “OF Lent” in our worship materials.

What’s so special about Lent?

  • The forty days reflect the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by Satan. We always hear that story as the Gospel lesson on the first Sunday in Lent.
  • It’s a period of spiritual spring-cleaning in preparation for the great celebration of Easter, as we deny ourselves certain behaviors that might hold us in an unhealthy grip.
  • We fast in our worship from saying or singing “Alleluia” and from the use of incense, as a reminder of Jesus fasting in the wilderness. We even fast from being blessed at the end of the Eucharist service.
  • We change the color of our vestments and church decorations to purple (a traditional color for penitence) or unbleached linen (representing the sackcloth of Biblical mourning), as we focus on saying sorry for the ways we have drifted away from God.
  • We maintain an austere atmosphere in the church, singing solemn songs, refraining from displaying flower arrangements, and veiling any images of the cross.
  • We add opportunities for devotional practices such as walking the Way of the Cross on Friday evenings, taking formation classes, and reading the daily reflections written by our cathedral siblings.

The word Lent comes from an old English word for spring, and the phenomenon of the season of spring is a good place to start a meditation on the nature of our Lenten observance. In nature we witness an annual miracle as seeds that have lain dormant start to sprout, flowers reappear, and birds polish up their spring songs. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that we commemorate in Holy Week (the last week of Lent) echo the rhythms of spring, and this dynamic makes our celebration of the new life in Christ that Easter offers all the more poignant by its contrast to the preceding somber weeks.

As we prepare for Easter, we also prepare for our Bishop’s visitation on the night before Easter, when she will baptize, confirm, receive and reaffirm those who want to enter a deeper relationship with Christ through the church. Our Wednesday night class during Lent is open to all, but especially to those feeling drawn to one of those rites. If you have never formally become an Episcopalian, or if this is a time of your life when you want to bring greater intention to your practice of faith, please join us on Wednesday evenings in the second floor conference room in 525 Olive.

Lent has a beauty all its own. I hope you are able to enter fully into this season.

Your sister in Christ,

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