My parish asked me to do a small booklet of Lenten reflections, based of course on the daily readings. Starting today (with the introduction), I'll be posting them here. Taking all of the Lenten readings in two or three sittings gives a shape to the whole that maybe we miss when they are spread out; hopefully some of that is captured here. Either way, happy Mardi Gras - and a blessed Lent!
In the Eastern Rites, Lent is known as a time of “bright sadness”: a time of mourning into which slowly dawns the light of the Resurrection. Taken another way, those two words can be seen to weave together two vastly different strands of prophecy concerning the Messiah. We celebrate the first in Advent, as we look with joy towards the coming of Christ: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us...to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The prophecies of Isaiah seem poised to come true: Israel will be restored, Jerusalem shall be raised high and all the nations shall be drawn to her; God will write His law on our hearts and His spirit will guide us in matters so small as walking left or walking right.
In Lent, we pick up the second thread. We remind ourselves of why He came, and we find little to rejoice in. There is a middle part to that verse: that dawn will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Again the prophecies of Isaiah echo down: there will come a “suffering servant”, upon whom will be laid the guilt of us all, by whose stripes we will be made whole. And it is the guilt of us all: “if we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Again and again over the next forty days, we will hear the call to repentance, to fasting, to prayer and almsgiving, coupled always with hope in God's mercy.
Lent is indeed a time of bright sadness. It is our journey with Christ from the feast of Cana to the feast in the Upper Room. The victory has been won for us, and yet we are waiting for it. We wait with Israel, yearning towards a promised redemption in which the Lord will be our God and we will be His people. We wait with that same Lord in the desert, weakened and battling temptation. We wait alongside those readying for baptism and union with Christ. We wait with Paul, in prayer and fasting, imploring God to remove from us the blindness of sin. We wait, marked with the ashes of our false hopes, called anew to be in the world but not of it.