Once again, the season of Lent has overstayed its welcome in my heart.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a firm believer in the value of Lent. I wouldn’t trade for anything that period of intense reflection and contemplation of God and the walls I’ve built between Him and me.
But I’d make it two weeks shorter if I could.
Really, my biggest problem with Lent isn’t Lent, it’s Easter. Every year by about this time, despite my best intentions, the effects of the powerful Ash Wednesday service start to wear off, and the subdued feel of Lenten Sunday services lose their impact.
Compounding that is the knowledge that my church does Holy Week extremely well. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are a spiritual rollercoaster at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary; I really enter into the story and am genuinely moved by the journey. These services are – as they should be – a highlight of my year, so it’s really tempting for me to look past the rest of Lent and move into Holy Week Mode a few weeks early.
There’s also the fact that by-in-large, Easter in our society is still Easter. Despite the best efforts of Hallmark and Cadbury, the secular side of the holiday hasn’t managed to eclipse the Crucifixion-Resurrection story. Chocolate bunnies and eggs still don’t mean as much to the non-Christian as the Cross and Empty Tomb mean to us. That means we Christians don’t really need Lent to keep us focused on Jesus (rather than the Bunny) the way we need Advent to help us stay centred on Jesus (rather than Santa).
Advent – the other season where liturgical churches are decorated in purple – is also somewhat sombre and serious, but there are aspects of it that make it much more accessible than Lent. Each of the four Sundays of Advent is assigned a different theme – peace, hope, joy and love – so I look forward to hearing sermons and singing songs that fit into those topics. The fact that Christmas always seems to come so quickly makes Advent seem all too short, most years.
Lent, on the other hand, has no themes to help mark the milestones. It’s meant to be a largely featureless, often bleak period, and it’s not the obvious counterpoint to a parallel secular season. Therefore, the purposes it serves are largely internal. There are a few Lenten rituals, but it’s so easy to go through the motions and fall emotionally or spiritually out-of-step with why we need Lent. What’s more, since Lent is 50% longer than Advent, it’s at least 50% tougher to stay in the spirit of the season for the whole time.
Remembering to be sombre and thoughtful isn’t easy. Choosing to take extra time each day to spend with God doesn’t come naturally. Self-denial – even if all you’re giving up is something as superfluous as social networking – takes work. (If it didn’t, it wouldn’t qualify as self-denial, would it?) And given the frailties of flesh, it’s pretty unlikely that a couple extra weeks are going to make that much difference in our quest to skim off all of the slag of our lives. So why does Lent have to be so long?
Maybe because I don’t want it to be. After all, if Lent was simple, pleasant and easy, how could I expect it to help me grow?
Peace be with you.