For the next several weeks, and into Lent, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the items inside our church, at their theology and what these sacramentals can teach us! Next week, when you come into the Nave for Ash Wednesday, you will see that the Altarpiece painting of the Resurrection of Christ is covered over with another image, a rather stark image of a simple cross on canvas. Hung on the cross is a white garment, reminding us that the Lord Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. We remember that, "For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21) Behind the cross are two implements of the crucifixion, the bludgeon which had been intended to break His legs but was unneeded, and the spear which was thrust into His side. The work of Sean Oswald, it is based upon the Lenten Array at Southwark Cathedral, originally done by the great liturgical artist Sir Ninian Comper. Why a Lenten Array? The first reason is that Lent is not only a fast from certain foods, but a fast from the delight of the eyes. We human beings seek after beauty and are not ordinarily satisfied with those things that are just enough or merely fitting. In the church during Lent, we even fast in our vision, and during this season, especially from the vision of the Resurrection. This is not to say that the Resurrection disappears during Lent. For the Christian, the Resurrection is a perpetual reality and not only a past event, but our hope for the future. It is rather to say that we must often refocus ourselves upon the Cross, choosing to contemplate the Lord's Passion so that we, as Paul puts it so eloquently, not only know the power of His Resurrection, but "may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3:10) The second reason for the Lenten Array has to do with the idea of veiling. We are often given over to the idea that we put a veil over that which is ugly, or deficient, or coarse. The truth is that veils are used to cover over that which is holy and beautiful. A bride, on the day of her wedding, puts on a veil. It is a reminder that she has kept herself holy for the day of her marriage, and that now she is entering into a new life. We cover our bodies, not out out of shame, but out of modesty. Lent is a time in which we veil the mysteries of the Resurrection so that we may prepare to meet the intimacy of redemption in a liturgical manner with great expectation. Here, I might offer a few general comments on the Lenten season in order to help you enter into it more fully. "Lent" comes from the Old English word lencten, meaning springtime, when the days literally lengthen. In languages outside of English, Lent is usually referred to by some variation of the term for fortieth, such as the Spanish cuaresma or the French carême. In the Christian East, Lent is referred to as a period of fasting, the great fast. The Lenten season is, in the most basic sense, a communal fast, not a form of individual piety, but an action undertaken by the whole body of Christ. Aspects of the Lenten Fast undertaken by the whole Church have traditionally included partaking only in one full meal during the day, or two half meals, as well as abstinence from flesh meat (not including fish) on Fridays. Ash Wednesday and Good Fridays are days for strict fasting, meaning that one meal is taken, usually after sundown, and it is typically small. In our house, we stay away from meals that are particularly festive, preferring soups and simple dishes for the whole of the season. The invention of the InstantPot has been quite helpful in that regard! Since we fast from meat on Fridays most of the year, we will usually also put a ban on desserts and candy. We usually use up the last of our sugar before Ash Wednesday. Other kinds of fasting include media fasts, phone fasts, fasting from certain comforts like warm showers, fasting from buying new material items, or even fasting from relying upon cars, and instead walking or biking. In addition, Lent is a time for giving to the poor. This year, we are teaming up with CareNet to give you a great way to do that. In the coming weeks, you'll be able to get a baby bottle into which you can put loose change or small bills on a regular basis to help serve women in crisis and families that are vulnerable to abortion. Through the years, I have known some who have decided to put a quarter into an almsgiving box like this (also known as a "mite box") whenever they said an unkind word or used profanity. Others have simply chosen to give funds that they would have used on their own comforts for the good of the poor. Lastly, and most importantly, Lent is a time for increasing our commitments and disciplines of prayer. As Saint Paul writes to Timothy "while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Tim. 4:8) To be godly means to receive our goodness from God himself, to be with God in a life of prayer. Through the centuries, the Anglican way, or Rule of Life, has included not only private devotion and regular communion, but the shared prayer of the Daily Office, or morning and evening prayer. If you are not in the habit, this is a great place to start, and our new 2019 Book of Common Prayer is a great way to do it. I can also commend to you web apps like this one which lays out the offices in a simple format. It should be noted that Lent does not include the Sundays in Lent. Sundays are always called Sundays in Lent, because they are not counted in the forty days. Many choose to dispense with fasting on Sundays for this reason, and I can say it is a good way to make it through the season without becoming weary. During Lent, we will begin the liturgy on Sundays with the Great Litany and recitation of the Decalogue. As well, we cease with all usage of the word Alleluia. The liturgy can be somber and penitential. You'll notice more times of silence and quiet. All of this is done so that all of us may remember our dependence upon God and our need for the gifts of repentance and renewed faith. I pray that this Lenten season will be a time of great renewal for you, and a time in which the Lord Jesus Christ meets you.
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