When I was a little girl I loved the season of Lent. I grew up Lutheran, and for some odd reason, I especially liked being at church. The Lenten season meant extra services on Wednesday evenings, with candle lighting and “special music”. Sometimes I’d be chosen to sing a solo, making it all the sweeter.
I’ve spent my adult life in a Free Church – EFCA – which is not to be confused with the Free Lutherans. A distinction I’d never made until last Sunday at our Open House for Luke and Ali, Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Dick, Covenants themselves, asking questions of Pastor Randy. Our variety of Free has to do with doctrine and governance, and practically speaking it typically means we have less tradition. We rarely light candles, although we did take a leap of faith this Christmas Eve, our new worship leader somehow talking Operations into allowing fire to be passed up and down the rows in our auditorium.
We are not Lenten people at Constance Free, but for a handful of years we did experiment with Ash Wednesday. This I believe was initially inspired by youth group leaders, those more inclined toward creative expression and experiential worship stations. We even ordered ash, applying it to foreheads with a scripture blessing. I thoroughly enjoyed this throwback to my liturgical roots, somber preparation for the holy season.
Most years I do what I can to lead myself and family through some semblance of preparation leading to Easter. When the boys were small we’d light a trail of seven candles, counting down to Holy Week. Good Friday was my favorite, but somewhat dreaded by little boys, who accidentally dubbed it Black Friday instead, and with good reason. We’d close curtains and turn off lights, using candles and quiet voices. And I, being teacher turned said-youth-group-leader, prepared a day’s worth of reflective experiences – stations of quiet crafts, picture books, journaling questions, and sacred music. Just what every little boy wants on his school day off. Mid-afternoon, just before official torture set in, we’d gather around the table for a pseudo-Passover supper, usually takeout from Dino’s Gyros. Later we’d head to church for our Good Friday service – one tradition observed yearly at Constance. Heading home, spring evening turning dark, boys eagerly anticipated flipping every light switch within reach, the ban lifted, Easter Sunday within sight.
Recent years we’ve left decisions about Lent practices to adulting sons. Like the candle-lighting of Advent, voluntary fasting and Black Friday observations vary as young men lead themselves or their families toward new traditions. My own preparation tends toward devotional reading and an attempt at giving up self-indulgence for the seven long weeks ahead. This year especially, winter being what it is, another twelve-ish inches of snow in the weekend forecast, and seven more weeks to Easter feels just short of eternal. My attitude not unlike little boys being asked to use quiet voices for just five more hours. Which may as well be forever.
This morning I sit longer than normal in my bedroom chair, ice packs on back and elbow, nursing injuries from yet another fall on driveway ice. I download a new book, recommended by Stephanie at Starbucks last night. We’d been forced to choose quickly, the barista giving us our five-minute warning a half hour sooner than expected. Prophetic Lament, no cheery title, but apropos for the season, and I’m just halfway through the introduction, when I come to this. “Shalom requires lament.” This is how the author starts it, enters my story, pulling me in.
There’s no sun this morning through bedroom window, clouds likely filled with tomorrow’s snow, thick and dreary. But daylight is lasting longer, and temps are rising, albeit slowly, and Lent leads to Easter as sure as winter turns spring. And I think about lament and resurrection, how they’re always connected. Even as a child, I sensed this beauty, the black of Good Friday and the white of Easter, and to miss the one is to cheapen the other. “Lament and praise must go hand in hand.”*
* Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah