Even though I grew up in a wonderful Episcopal church, it wasn't until college that I began to fully appreciate the liturgy and tradition of the Episcopal and Anglican services. While extremely thankful for and blessed by our church now, there are times I deeply miss the rich historical meaning behind the liturgy and church calendar year. Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of a 40-day liturgical season of reflection, confession, repentance, and sacrifice before Easter called Lent, which is practiced by several Christian denominations. Like Advent for the preparation of Jesus' birth at Christmas, as I've participated in Lent in the past, it has been an amazing way that the Lord has used to prepare my heart to fully enter into the glorious celebration of Easter.
Oftentimes, Lent is a time when a person commits to the Lord to give up something important to them for 40 days. It is an opportunity for an individual to sacrifice something meaningful that will remind them of Christ's sacrifice on the cross for us, and the hope of His resurrection. For example, Catholics usually give up meat on Fridays. There have been a number of years when I gave up sweets and/or chocolate. My senior year in college, I was checking my email at least 5 times a day to see if a certain someone whom I really liked (my now husband) had written me, and so I made a commitment to the Lord that I wouldn't check more than once a day. There was one Lenten season that Matt and I can both attest that the Lord used to let us "...know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11).
Lent can also be celebrated corporately, as a church. One of the most markedly significant and poignant illustrations of this to me is when a church, that regularly dismisses the congregation after the recessional says together the words, "Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia", refrains from saying that during Lent. Instead, the church leaves in silence, humbly aware that the celebratory declaration is missing, a vivid reminder that Lent is a season about Jesus' death, of what He gave up for us...but there is hope, hope of His resurrection! So that on Resurrection Day, Easter, after singing wonderful ancient hymns like "Lift High the Cross" and "Hail Thee, Festival Day", for the first time in 40 days the congregation joins loudly, rejoicing in one accord saying, "Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!", it is the most refreshing, hopeful, and life-filled words uttered. I can't begin to describe the elation of speaking those words after refraining 40 days. It is pure rejoicing!
One thing I would like to do this Lenten season, is regularly read the weekly liturgical prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer, a compilation of prayers, liturgy, and rites used throughout the Anglican community. And if you would so oblige me, I would like to share them with you as well (from here on posting one each Sunday of Lent and the Holy Week prayers), in hope that they will bless you and remind us of preparing our hearts to celebrate Easter, Resurrection Day, the Day we celebrate the One whom we ache for the world to know.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.