The Season of Lent

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This is adapted from a homily I gave at a family Ash Wednesday Eucharist in 2012.  Lent begins Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Lent is the name we give to the forty days before the great mystery of Easter. Lent means lengthening, because the days are growing longer. It is a time for the color purple, the color of royalty. We are preparing for the coming of a king.

On the Tuesday before Lent begins,  Christians all over the world celebrate the end of season after Epiphany, which began January 6, when the magi, the wise ones from far away followed a star in search of a newborn king, Jesus. People celebrate with parades and parties and pancakes. Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday— is called that because long ago on the night before Lent began, people used up all the fat in their kitchens—milk, butter, eggs, meat—so that during Lent they could come closer to God by not eating those foods. Some of us still prepare for the coming of our king by fasting—giving up—something. Some of us give up foods we really like—desserts or sodas or vanilla lattes. Then the money that we used to spend on desserts or sodas or lattes can be saved and given to help feed the hungry. Some of us give up television or video games or try to spend less time with our smart phones, and for the forty days of Lent we use that time instead to look for ways to come closer to God.

Some people read the Bible more often in Lent, listening for what God is telling us today. We may pray more often, or at a certain time each day, and when we pray we could light a candle to remind us that Christ is the light of the World, and we are Christ’s light in the world.

We might draw or write our prayers and keep them in a special place, in a journal or a box or even on a calendar to show we are giving all our worries and hopes to God.  There are so many ways to pray, and Lent is a good time to try new practices.

Some of us take on doing more of God’s work in the world during Lent: collecting groceries for the food pantry, visiting the lonely, helping people in our neighborhoods or across the ocean. We might use a giving calendar so that we can return God’s blessings to us out into the world, by giving one day a quarter for every bottle of medicine you have in your house, or a nickel every time you turn on the water faucet another day.

Lent is a serious time, a time set apart for thinking, praying, giving thanks and remembering God’s gifts to us so that we might give generously to others.

We call the day Lent begins Ash Wednesday. Long ago, when people wanted God to know they were sorry for what they had done wrong, they asked God’s forgiveness by making a sacrifice—an offering—to be burned on the altar. If people had a lot of money, they  offered a lamb to God. If they had just a little money, they offered a bird.

When their sacrifice was all burnt up, all that was left were ashes. Sometimes the people who asked God for forgiveness would wear these ashes on their bodies to show how sorry they felt.

We no longer bring animals to be burned on the altar when we ask God to forgive us. Everything changed when God sent Jesus to live and die as one of us. Whenever we ask God to forgive us, we are forgiven. Whenever we turn toward God, we are embraced.

Our ashes come from the palms we waved almost a year ago at the end of Lent, when we remembered the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey instead of a stallion, still speaking of peace instead of leading a great army, and the people waved palms in celebration, as if they were welcoming a king. We welcome the King of Love. We call that day Palm Sunday—it is the Sunday before Easter. Some of those palms we fold into crosses, and keep in our homes all year until it’s time. It’s time.

At our baptism, we are claimed as God’s beloved children and a cross of oil is made on our foreheads to mark us as Christ’s own forever. The cross of ashes we receive in the very same spot is to remind us that God made us, we belong to God, and God loves us. May we remember who we are and whose we are, each day of this holy Lent, so that our Easter joy will be complete.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Looking for additional Lenten resources? Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary is a wonderful book to add to your collection. Under the Fig Tree: Visual Prayers and Poems for Lent by Roger Hutchison is excellent for older children, youth and adults. This year, Illustrated Children’s Ministry has a creative downloadable family Lenten devotional focused on prayer.

 

Hearts and crosses: On Valentine’s Day and Lent

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There probably was no saint called Valentine and the story we have about him is rather gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep you from making February 14 all about love. Love of family, friends and neighbors deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as romantic love, and maybe even more.

My son’s due date was February 12. On February 14, I woke up feeling huge and miserable, like this baby was going to stay inside me forever. The sky was dark grey, and the temperature had been below freezing for several days. I looked out the window of my New York City apartment and discovered that someone had hung a large red tag-board heart decorated with glitter and shiny stickers that caught the light from every tree on our block. Even though they were not meant for me personally, those valentines made me feel loved. Read one of my all-time favorite books, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli and dream up acts of kindness for your neighbors.

Include strangers: fill up snack-sized Ziploc bags with foil-wrapped chocolate hearts or kisses and hide them for others to find. Take extra signed valentines to the public library and tuck them into books. Put them under soup cans on the shelves of your local supermarket. Carry valentines in your pocket, backpack or purse and pass them out to those you meet and greet–the bus driver, the postal clerk, the crossing guard. If there is no snow on the ground, you could draw small hearts in sidewalk chalk that will remind people of the conversation hearts we gave each other in grade school. I want to do that along my route to the subway.

Love by Matt de la Peña with illustrations by Loren Long is a brand-new picture book for all ages about the nuances of this feeling, this bond, this force. You need to read with your children at home or at church now. It may become your favorite book to gift. Read the Brightly review here.

This year, Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I never give up chocolate for Lent; it makes me not a kind person, so I see it as counter-productive. My friend Laura Alary writes beautifully about the confluence in this article; and if you are a Lent-observing family, you definitely need her book, Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter. For me, the cross of ashes I receive on my forehead on Ash Wednesday is intimately connected with the cross of oil we receive in the same spot at our baptism.  Here’s the heart of it: From Love we come, and to Love we return.

We just need more love, so please don’t let Ash Wednesday get in your way. Even if you are having a simple evening meal of soup and bread, you could set the table with candles, flowers and the fancy china. Print out the Christian valentines from blogger Angie Kauffman and put one at each place setting. She has several different sets, so it’s easy to choose the ones best suited to your family. Take time for each person to share what they love most about the others around the table. Let this be the night you decide how your family will show God’s love in action during Lent. Will you visit a seniors’ center, help out at an animal shelter or community food pantry, clean up a public park, make treats for the volunteer fire station? Traci Smith has a Lenten practices calendar for families with younger children and Jenifer Gamber made a Lenten giving calendar that works well for older kids and teens.  

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.

1 John 3:18

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is inspired by chapter 5, Seasons and Celebrations.