A Holy Lent

by The Rev. Dr. Jason L. Parkin, Rector

               I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
               to the observance of a holy Lent,
               by self-examination and repentance;
               by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;
               and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word."
                                                         Liturgy for Ash Wednesday
                                                         Book of Common Prayer, p. 265

These words, which constitute part of the Exhortation read by the Celebrant to the gathered congregation on Ash Wednesday, sum up in a concise fashion what we might call the traditional elements of the observance of a "holy Lent." As all know, Lent is a penitential season, one in which we are called by God to ponder the directions our lives have taken, and to address those areas in which our actions, words, and thoughts have strayed from the life of faithfulness and compassion for which we were fashioned by God. Such self-examination, and the renunciation of beloved delights or activities, has become a standard way for many Christians to move through the season of Lent. And, indeed, such practices-from spending more time in prayer to being more conscientious about coming to church, from giving up chocolate to reading through portions of Holy Scripture-truly are ways to purify our lives during this holy time.

But Lent is more than a time of penitence: it is also-and, in the early centuries of the Church, was originally-a time of preparation: of preparation for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter, and, above all, for the inexpressible joy and delight of the Resurrection celebrated on Easter. As a result, it is more than appropriate to journey through Lent with a sense of solemn joy: joy that God has come into the world in Jesus; joy that we have been offered a new world and a new way of being; joy that at the end of Lent comes the new life for which we have been preparing. In recent years, it has become common in many churches to talk of preparing for Easter during Lent not by forsaking some action or object, but, rather, by taking on something new. And, as we all travel the road of the next few weeks, I would encourage all of us to do this, and to try something new this Lent: to participate in the Lenten programs on Wednesday evenings; to attend a weekday Eucharist or assist in the Church School for the season; to pray each morning for the people who normally sit near you in church or to make a conscious choice to welcome the visitor or sojourner in our midst on Sundays. The list of possible "additions" to our spiritual lives is, of course, endless; and yet, each of us can surely find one or more ways in which we can be stretched-with solemn joy-as we prepare ourselves and our parish community for the wonders and delights to be revealed to us as the season of Lent unfolds and culminates in Holy Week. I pray all of you a blessed, focused, holy, and provocative Lent.