By David Gambrell | Presbyterians Today
We see the days marked on church calendars — Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Palm/Passion Sunday, All Saints Day, etc. — but what importance do they have on our spiritual formation, our faith, our evangelism? How can understanding the liturgical year, and incorporating it into our daily lives, deepen our relationship with Christ? The Christian year provides a wonderful framework for practicing the great mystery of our faith. This series of columns focuses on such practices — providing ideas and tips for “living liturgically,” be it in church, at home or out in the community.
Lent at a glance
In the first few centuries of Christian tradition, the season of Lent emerged as a time of penitential preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Holy Saturday, spanning 40 days (not counting the six Sundays). Holy Week, the final week of Lent, begins with Palm/Passion Sunday and concludes with what is known as the “Paschal Triduum” or “The Great Three Days” — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.
Repentance and reconciliation are central themes of the season of Lent. Accent these themes in worship by:
- Emphasizing the element of confession by including — or extending — a time of silence for self-examination. Gradually lengthen this period of silence throughout the season.
- Leading the confession and pardon from the baptismal font, highlighting the nature of baptismal discipleship as dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ (Romans 6:1–11).
- Learning a new musical setting of the Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy”), perhaps from another culture or liturgical tradition, and singing it throughout the season of Lent.
Three recommendations for spiritual growth during the Lenten season are:
- Use a daily lectionary (visit pcusa.org/lectionary), Lenten devotional, six-week Bible study or some other reading plan to immerse yourself in Scripture throughout the forty(-six) days of Lent.
- Explore six different spiritual practices (contemplation, journaling, meditation, etc.) during the six weeks of Lent and then choose one to focus on in the following year.
- Work to renew or restore broken relationships by reaching out to estranged friends or family members with a personal letter or (where appropriate and possible) a visit.
Ministry in the church
In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new believers for baptism. Here are suggestions for Christian formation in Lent:
- Hold confirmation classes — or culminate a yearlong program — during Lent, with reaffirmation of baptism upon profession of faith at the Easter Vigil.
- Organize a new-members class in the season of Lent, with experienced members designated as mentors and companions.
- Think strategically about evangelism and hospitality during the season of Lent so you will be ready to welcome (or welcome back) those who attend at Holy Week and Easter.
Mission in the community
Lent calls us to confront the brokenness and suffering of the world. Here are three practices related to social justice and the healing of creation:
- Get involved with an organization that advocates for racial justice and reconciliation or seeks to address discrimination, prejudice and bias in public policies.
- Volunteer with an agency that helps people who are poor, hungry and homeless in your local community, or works to eradicate systemic poverty in the nation and world.
- Take inventory of your ecological footprint, and then find ways to reduce your consumption, increase what you recycle and use cleaner sources of energy.
David Gambrell, Ph.D., is associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship and co-editor, with Kimberly Bracken Long, of the Book of Common Worship (WJKP, 2018).
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Categories: Faith & Worship, Presbyterians Today
Tags: Lent, liturgical year, spirituality
Tags: ash wednesday, baptism, christian, church, community, david gambrell, easter vigil, faith, holy, lent, lent begins, living liturgically, palm/passion sunday, practices, season, season of lent, spiritual, sunday, time, worship
Ministries: Presbyterians Today, Theology and Worship