The Lenten Preseason
In Eastern Christianity, the season of Lent is so important that it requires a preseason. Now, that’s what I call spiritual discipline.
Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without significant training, in the Eastern Church, the lenten fast is thought to be such a departure from our ordinary lives that we need to get ourselves ready for it, so the fast will not be such a shock when it comes. So the Sundays leading up to Lent are a time of pre-lenten preparation. A preseason, if you will.
The gospel lessons for those Sundays are stories that lift up particular disciplines that will be lifted up more completely during Lent. This past Sunday was actually the first in this lenten preseason, known in the Eastern Church as “Zacchaeus Sunday.” The story of Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree is read, considering the lenten themes of both our need for repentance and also the grace of God that calls us by name.
The preseason ends on the final Sunday before Lent, known as “Forgiveness Sunday,” when at one point in the service the whole congregation is invited to turn toward each other, bow, and ask for forgiveness in order to enter Lent with a pure heart and a clean conscience. It’s a powerful thing to witness.
We won’t be following along with the particular gospel stories (though keep an eye on Forgiveness Sunday), but we will be keeping Lent in a new way at church this year which will require some similar preparation.
As part of lenten observance, we’re excited to offer a number of small groups that will gather around different interests in the hopes that when approached through the lens of Lent these interests will become spiritual disciplines. You can find more information about each these groups on the front cover of this month's newsletter or by clicking here.
The name of the game is “short term, high commitment.” The groups will meet weekly only through the six weeks of Lent, but we hope that if you sign up to be a part of the group you will make every effort to be at each of the meetings (discipline!). It’s our hope that everyone will take this opportunity to “keep a good Lent” by joining with others around a common interest, and that this interest will be a gateway into a spiritual discipline.
So think of these next few weeks leading up to February 18th (Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent) as the lenten preseason. Consider each of these offerings and sign up for one that interests you. Or take the time to think of another way you will keep a good Lent this year. Whatever you choose to do, I pray that this season of Lent will leave your body, mind, and spirit ready to encounter the miracle and mystery of resurrection that waits for us all on Easter morning.
Hoping not to pull a muscle,