“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting… 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” (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 264-65).
With these words from the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the Celebrant calls us to begin our personal and corporate observance of Lent. This year, I am particularly struck by the words, “I invite you….” Formed as I, and perhaps you too, have been by American religious culture, the beginning of Lent often has seemed to bring with it a perceived demand to avoid or abandon some thing deemed unholy. Year after year, pronouncements on social media and in actual conversation of things given up easily overwhelm in number, and sometimes in tone too, those trying to take on some spiritual discipline this season. But framing Lent as our intentional response to God’s invitation to something more, something deeper, something different, begins to correct this imbalance.
So how might you, how might we all, I wonder, in faithful fashion prepare our hearts for Holy Week? In their collective wisdom and experience, the revisers of the 1979 Prayer Book offer us good options—self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, meditating on scripture. Note that fasting and self-denial are but two of the possibilities. And none are demands. I encourage us to choose one, or something else as the Spirit leads, and by that daily discipline to respond intentionally to the invitation a holy Lent. Who knows where it might lead?
–The Rev. Jonathan E. Soyars, Assisting Priest