I've been meaning for the past many weeks to blather about lent and what it looks like in a house full of small children next door to a church full of new Christians, many of whom have no desire whatsoever to be Anglican in a town fading into the gray but full of nominal Catholics. Well, actually, I don't really want to talk about the town and maybe not about the church. I really wanted to, you know, just put more vapid stuff on the internet.
Anyway, the church year is a wonderful thing to blog about. You can blog about your personal church year devotion, what you're doing as a family, or how your church celebrates. Its a vast and rich source of subject matter for the person casting abroad for something about which to write. Except for me. I never manage to write about it and mostly not to do any of it either. So, after many years of feeling terrible about doing very little to celebrate the church year with my young, horribly young family, I thought I'd tell you why we don't. There's got at least one other clergy family out there who doesn't have time and who feels bad about it. This is for you!
Why You May Not Need to make Lent a Beautiful Time for your Small Children
The church year, for those of you don't know what I'm talking about, is time organized around the life of Jesus. Everyone who celebrates Christmas and Easter celebrates the life of Jesus a little bit, but some of us do more. So right now we're in Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays which are ALWAYS feast days and therefore are days IN Lent, not days OF Lent--if you've given up chocolate for Lent, you can have it on Sunday because Sunday is a feast.) which recall both the 40 years the people of Israel spent in the wilderness before they went into the Promised Land, and the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted. Traditionally its a time to give something up in order to draw closer to God.
Let me also note that Lent is my favorite time of year. I love the scaled back austerity of Lent--no flowers on the altar, more somber music and some things, like the Lord's Prayer, said instead of sung etc. Just like I generally like Advent more that Christmas, I sort of like Lent more than Easter. I mean, I LOVE the Great Vigil of Easter, but it only takes me a day to be over the riot of Easter Flowers whereas I don't really get tired of the purple veils over all the crosses, (incidentally, I still have no idea what purpose the veils serve. Someone tell me!)
But underneath the somber austerity is a grinding mill of extra work. Lent into Holy Week is the busiest most intense time of the church year, more than Christmas by far, and the Extra Work at church.....I don't even know how to describe it. Well, let me try anyway.
This Lent, for example, we've added themed Saturdays of prayer culminating in a longer time of prayer stretching from Maundy Thursday through to Holy Saturday. It means changing the scripture hanging and writing a small reflection before 11am every Saturday and getting the room back in order. And then fussing around with the altar before getting on with the usual business of preparing for Sunday. And writing some new lessons for Sunday School, because there are gaps in the older years. And learning about all the stuff that needs to happen for the altar in Holy Week because the person in whose mind it all resides has been out with an egregious and terrifying injury (but is better! by the merciful grace of God). And scheduling people to serve during Holy Week. And divvying up the sermon writing. And trying to dye Easter eggs at some point, and taking on the daunting task of Easter Baskets. And discovering that we need more thurifers because one of them, meanly, isn't coming home from college for the weekend. And seriously thinking of a way to dress up our very plain and boring dalmatics. And remembering that on Palm Sunday the Sunday Schools join for a celebration of the Last Supper. I could go on like this for a few more paragraphs.
And in all this busyness, the people who fall through the cracks, especially in Holy Week, are the children. They sometimes end up with a baby sitter every night. They have to play at church for hours while we figure out the lighting for the Vigil. They have to watch Shaun the Sheep while extra sermons are written or I go on a long scavenge for Six Equal Easter baskets. By Easter Monday we are all exhausted and lonely for each other and teary and just generally wrung out.
The great sacrifice, the great fast, for us, in Lent, is time with each other.
And so we don't give up chocolate. We don't go meatless, at all, for any day of the week. We don't add extra burdens of Lovely Lenten Prayer and Devotionals. We don't try to read through a whole book of the bible or remember to pray for the missionaries of the world. We don't even light a candle at dinner time. We don't do anything extra. We do read as much Narnia as possible. And cling insanely and desperately to our school routine.
And we look forward to the time of feasting with each other through the whole season of Easter.
And this year I rejoice that two of my herd are slated to be on the altar during Holy Week. And if I can just remember to make them practice the piano, someday they'll hopefully be playing the music and reading the lessons. But in the meantime, we take the fast God gives us at the time he gives it.