I discovered the church calendar fairly recently, within the last few years. Every year, I discover a new holiday, and realize that Christendom has gone before me, anticipating a need for a holiday before I even knew I wanted to celebrate. Last year it was Advent. This year, Epiphany. We threw an Epiphany party; we had a King Cake, we made Magi crowns, we wore them out to a nearby field for stargazing. My own mother dressed up like a Wise Man and appeared at my door wearing a bathrobe and false beard. (Sorry mom!) It was great. I got hooked. It was my gateway drug for the church calendar. Now, I want more.
I have never known what to do with Lent. It has always seemed so Catholic, and fraught with un-Protestant theology. It seemed about 3 steps away from Indulgences and Stigmatas and Jesus in the Tortilla. ( You will understand why I would jump to these crazy conclusions when you know that my church upbringing was so far removed from the 'bells & smells' of high church that hymns other than 'Amazing Grace' & 'Holy, Holy, Holy' were considered faintly.... stuffy, therefore circumspect and therefore of a "dead tradition". Heck, we thought the Baptists were too liturgical!) Now, however, as an adult, I find myself drawn to the vast collection of writings, songs and traditions of those who have gone before me in the faith.
So there I was at the Shrove Tuesday service with Camille & Angel (Lent Eve). I think it was there that I decided to give up caffeine for Lent just to 'try it out.' I was curious to see if Lent, like Advent and Epiphany before it could inspire me in some manner; could help prepare me for Easter. .....
Easter, the gladdest and most high Holy Day of our year, looms on the horizon. I usually feel unprepared for the celebration that Easter is supposed to be. It's either all bunnies and chicks and saccharine cuty-wootie or it's this strangely cold, waxy white funeral lily and Easter Bonnet & Baked Ham day. I don't know how to properly prepare my heart for the true meaning of it's coming. Again the church has anticipated me and given me Lent, to help. But it h elps in an odd manner. In preparing for this gladdest of days, we are told to give up, to go without, to fast. We spend 40 days in want, denying ourselves. It seems a funny way to start. And not a holiday I would invent, if I was trying to garner followers. "Woo-hoo! A holiday about fasting that lasts for 40 days! Sign me up!" The church in Rome obviously had few PR people working for them at the time.....
Ashes & Crowns
I think that's why I never really 'got' Lent before. It is counter-intuititive. You have to get sad to get happy. You have to wear the ashes before you get the crown of beauty; you must mourn before you can drip the oil of gladness (Isaiah 61). I have my ashy moments, I am wispy, dried up and long for renewal. I come to Lent, and look to Jesus. I see him praying in the garden, sweating drops like blood, I see him falsely accused, beaten and ridiculed; carrying His cross up to Golgotha, misunderstood until he took his last breath. The ashiest moment in human history. The world waits, shrouded like He is shrouded in the tomb. It is the Sabbath (though God is at work) and the women rest in ashes & mourning, waiting with the perfumes and spices to anoint their Master. What will happen? Here is where the 'turn' occurs, (Tolkien's eucatastrophe*) the part that makes you catch your breath; for very early in the morning, we see the Risen Lord, the firstborn from among the dead.
'Were not our hearts burning within us?'
*eucatastrophe: the 'Consolation', the ultimate Happy Ending, the part in the story that gives you Joy, and speaks of heaven. "The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.The story starts and ends in joy."- JRR Tolkien (Tree and Leaf)