With Lent just around the corner, I'm curious how your congregation is observing it. How does the sanctuary change? Are there different pieces of art? Different paraments? Do you have a sermon series or theme for the season? Do you prepare and/or use Lenten devotions. Do you have Wednesday services in Lent? A soup supper? How are these attended? And what about education? Is there a special adult or youth education emphasis for Lent? Do you have an adult forum series or book study?
From the earliest time of the church, Lent has been a time for instruction in the faith. In fact, the season began as a time for those who wished to join the Christian faith to enter into a particularly focused time of reflection, penitence, and study before committing themselves to Christ at the Easter vigil service. Indeed, the rest of the church year grew out of and around this season of preparation.
And most of the traditions that our congregations have observed - Wednesday night services, quieter and more reflective Sunday worship, sermon or adult forum series, contemplation of the cross of Jesus - stem from these practices.
But in recent years, however, with hectic family calendars and personal schedules and a diminished "liturgical imagination," churches have had a harder time finding support for all that would have been assumed to be an "essential" part of Lent a generation ago. Which is why I'm curious - what do you do for Lent? And, more pointedly, does Lent still matter.
What, I mean, does Lent mean to you? Does it convey anything to you? What elements of the season make the strong impression? Does it prepare you to celebrate Easter or does it "stand alone" as a season or does it hardly register?
I think these are important questions because while the whole of the church year was designed to teach the Christian faith, many of those elements are not well understood or even confusing and for this reason not terribly effective. Which has many churches wondering whether the additional time and preparation that go into planning a season like Lent are worth it.
Of course, some congregations have found the ebb and flow of the seasons very helpful for emphasizing different elements of the Christian faith. These congregations plan Lent (and perhaps Advent, Epiphany and/or the Easter season as well) with some intentionality, working to distinguish the music and "feel" of the service and focus on teaching in the preaching and study of the congregation.
So, again, I'm curious, what do you do for Lent? Does it still matter to you? What might we do to make it more meaningful? These are real questions, and I hope we can prompt another great discussion.
Okay, last thing: I'm fairly terrible at self-promotion, much to the chagrin of my publisher. But if you haven't yet figured out what to do for Lent (I know, I know, I should have written this post a month ago), I'd make bold to suggest reading Making Sense of the Cross in study groups, as a Bible study, or alone. You can find it at Amazon or order it directly from Augsburg Fortress. In fact, AF has produced a site to promote the Making Sense courses and make available various resources to help make the books useful to you and your congregation. So even if you aren't planning on reading the book (or, hey, maybe already have! ), I'd appreciate if you'd take a minute to check out the site and let me know what you think. Are there ways it could be more helpful or resources there that would make the books and courses better. Thanks for taking the time!
However you celebrate it, let me simply say that I hope you have a meaningful and blessed Lenten season.