Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Feast of Lent

From "Lent"

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,

He loves not Temperance, or Authority,

But is compos'd of passion.

The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:

Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow

To ev'ry Corporation.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion

To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,

When good is seasonable;

Unless Authority, which should increase

The obligation in us, make it less,

And Power itself disable.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring

And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,

And goodness of the deed.

Neither ought other men's abuse of Lent

Spoil the good use; lest by that argument

We forfeit all our Creed.

It's true, we cannot reach Christ's forti'eth day;

Yet to go part of that religious way,

Is better than to rest:

We cannot reach our Saviour's purity;

Yet we are bid, 'Be holy ev'n as he, '

In both let's do our best.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast

By starving sin and taking such repast,

As may our faults control:

That ev'ry man may revel at his door,

Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,

And among those his soul.

George Herbert, priest and poet (1593-1633)

Commemorated Feb. 27th

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just another Lenten Day

Yesterday the Church observed the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. If we took it seriously, it was a day that challenged and changed the rhythm of our life. It upset our patterns, our expectations of what is normal. If so, it was a good start to Lent.

For, Lent is meant to be deeply upsetting, just as spring is upsetting to the somnolence of winter. The first stages of spring’s awakening the earth are sometimes brutal, and marked by a back-and-forth tussle between the cold and dormancy of one season and the warming growth of another. During that transition, times can be uncertain, unclear, and murky.

Today is the second day of Lent. It has no special name. It is just another Lenten day. But, it is every bit as important as yesterday, in that it is an opportunity to be committed to the unsettling work of God. It is likely we will prefer sleep, winter, dormancy; these are easier in the short run. So, sadly, is death. We live in a world conformed to death and its “norms” of complacency, pessimism, cynicism, and selfishness.

What we know of God, however, makes clear that there is no compromise with death. At no time may a Christian cope with death or sin; we must either battle it in the victorious light of Christ’s victory over the devil’s temptations in the desert (which we will reflect on this Sunday) and at Easter, or we must surrender to it and choose death over Life. This is all there is.

Today we may again choose winter – the habits of a life gradually digging itself deeper into the cold embrace of conformity to death. Or, we may journey further into the springtime of the soul. We see the destination already, a limitless land high on a hill, shining with the light of the Transfiguration. The road ahead is the unique terrain of our heart, and Christ is the guide who knows both the difficulty and the joy of what we face. The important thing is that we choose spring, choose life, choose again on each ordinary Lenten day. When we do so, we will arrive at Easter as people who desire an eternal springtime, and one we are in fact ready to receive.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Farewell, Alleluia... for a season

This Sunday marks the final chapter of the season after Epiphany in our calendar. It is also the high-point of Shrovetide, that not-too-exact period of feasting and partying prior to Lent. It is wholly appropriate that St. Valentine’s Day falls on the Last Sunday after Epiphany this year.

This Sunday always features the Transfiguration of Christ for the Gospel Lesson, and this is a remarkably rich and wise way to end this chapter of the year. As we began this season with Theophanies – showings-forth of Christ’s divine nature – so we end it with this great manifestation of Christ’s nature and purpose. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all show the Transfiguration to be the decisive turning-point in Christ’s public ministry: here he moves from teaching and healing in the various small communities of Israel and “turns his face” towards Jerusalem, where his “exodus” is to be accomplished.

In the Transfiguration we see Humanity exalted and Divinity revealed. We see Christ’s purpose – the restoration of humankind and all Creation to its true dignity – made manifest in a delicious and tantalizing flash of pre-Resurrection glory. On the Holy Mount, the living and the dead, the Law and the Prophets, the old and the new are united in peaceful converse. So it is in every celebration of the Sacred Mysteries of Christ. So it must be in the ministry of the authentic Church. This is the Great Amen, the “so be it” we all crave; now, for a moment – but then, for ever. We bow down in awe, worshiping our God whose love for us is at once so cosmically overwhelming and yet so tender.

On this Sunday, we ceremonially bid “farewell to alleluia,” a word that we fast from for the season of Lent, though as the hymn we sing on this day reminds us this Alleluia is a “voice of joy that cannot die.” The children come to the altar and help me “bury Alleluia,” safe in its resting place until the Easter Vigil. It is a day of exaltation, but also of a reminder that this joy came at a cost, and that those who would follow Christ must “take up their cross also.” So, “let us for a while give o’er, as our Savior in his fasting pleasures of the world forbore” and for season bid farewell to the passing joys of this world, so that we can sing a deeper, more grateful Alleluia on Lent’s further shore.