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To the Saints who are in Los Osos, March 2021
On March 14, the third Sunday in Lent, it will be a full year since we, (and most of Lent is one of the earliest seasons to enter the “Church year.” Lent has always been a season of preparation. In much of Christian history, Lent was the time for those who had lapsed during the year to do penance in preparation of being fully restored to the fellowship of the Church on Easter. Lent was also the season for new converts to prepare for baptism on Easter.
Most churches don’t practice the kind of discipline that would withhold communion from lapsed brothers and sisters until they had practiced penance and been restored. For much of the Church today preparation for baptism consists of an hour-long chat about baptism and the Church. For most of the Church, at least in twenty-first-century America, if we think of Lent at all we think of a season of fasting and prayer.
This begs the question, “Is Lent still relevant to discipleship today? I believe that indeed it is. It provides a framework for us to remember vital spiritual practices. Most of us don’t think much about our need for forgiveness, but Lent gives us a reminder to consider our relationship with God. Penance is something that most modern American Protestants rarely think about. We may sing, “I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near,” but most of us don’t have such tender consciences. Lent gives us a chance to be prompted to consider it. I know many people, both clergy and lay, who do indeed practice extra spiritual discipline during Lent.
Then there is the question of fasting which we’ve largely reduced to “giving something up for Lent.” I don’t want to minimize the power of doing just that, but I try to remember that fasting sits in a larger context. In the Old Testament, fasting is often tied to mourning and distress. At the very least it is a discipline that allows us to draw nearer to God by removing distractions from our lives. In our modern world if fasting is mentioned, it is usually in the context of bodily “cleansing.” Fasting can also be a gateway to spiritual cleansing.
In recent years it has been popular to “take on something for Lent,” rather than giving something up. This can be a good practice, but I think something is lost if we don’t also choose a fast. So many of the traditional spiritual practices are falling by the wayside. The reason they are traditional is that they have helped grow the discipleship and spiritual lives of Christians for generations.
These disciplines have spiritual value in and of themselves, and the season of Lent gives us enough time to actually practice them. In the past year each one of us has been stretched and stressed in ways that we probably could not have imagined a year ago. We’ve noted to one another how time has seemed to stretch. In many ways it seems like we have had a full year of Lent.
Lent is a forward-looking season. Penance and the valley of the shadow are never intended to be the end. The light and life that burst forth at Easter is the prize to which Lent and its spiritual disciplines are leading us. Lent holds the promise that Easter is coming and cannot be stopped. Tony Campolo has a famous sermon, remember, “But it’s only Friday, Sunday’s Coming.”
“It’s Friday… Jesus was nailed dead on a cross.
But it’s only Friday; Sunday’s coming!”
It’s Friday… Mary’s crying her eyes out ‘cause her Jesus is dead.
But it’s only Friday; Sunday’s coming!..”
If you haven’t heard it, I would highly recommend giving it a listen. It is both inspiring and entertaining. (you can listen to it here: https://www.campolocenter.org/sundays-comin/)
It’s been a long COVID year, but Sunday’s coming. We’re not sure when we’ll be able to be back to in-person worship, but with vaccines becoming available and more of us able to get them, we know that Sunday’s coming. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m still working on redoing our spice cabinet for Rachel and need Trader Joe’s and Spice
Hunter brand spice bottles. Since I need quite a few I will likely be asking for your help for the
next several months. Could you save any that you may empty and bring them to the church or I can pick them up.