Associate Rector Reflects March
Once upon a time I loved Lent. I took on a spiritual practice, or gave up something, and Easter Sunday I was catapulted back into the glory of a risen Christ.
Then came Lent 1994. The previous October my husband Jack had been diagnosed with lung cancer. In March Jack participated in a chemo trial that accelerated his cancer so dramatically that I was frantic. “Oh, Jesus,” I prayed during this nightmare, “you will rise at Easter, but Jack is going to be dead!” And he was.
From then on, I did not “do” Lent. I had given up my husband for Lent, and that was enough to last the rest of my life. From then on I dreaded Lent.
About five years later, though, I attended a 7 am Ash Wednesday service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in downtown San Antonio, before going to work at a nearby high school. Bishop James Folts preached. He said Jesus had failed. He had come to bring the world to God, but he had failed to do that. The only option left was to go to Jerusalem and die. “Do you,” Bishop Folts asked us, “have the courage to go to Jerusalem with Jesus?”
No, I did not. But as I sat there and listened to the rest of the sermon, I thought, “I can go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus, but not calmly. I will squeal and cry ‘I don’t want to do this’ all the way.” When I got home, I wrote Bishop Folts a note telling him that. I can go, I wrote, but not gracefully. I can go crying and screaming, afraid all the way. He wrote back, “Fellow pilgrim, I will look for you on the road to Jerusalem.”
It was a comfort to think I could wail and cry as I walked, protesting every step of Lent, and still be heading in the right direction, and accompanied by a bishop.
* * *
It would be another twelve years before I was converted back to Lent, and it was at All Saints’ in Lent 2011. It was just a fluke that I turned up here that first Sunday of Lent. I was a first-year seminarian, and I visited all the churches in Austin that school year; but that Sunday maybe I was running late and needed a church nearby. I don’t know, I only know that everything changed that Sunday.
I was braced for Lent as I entered. But this Sunday worship began with a sung litany, and a procession that seemed to never end. It went up the center, and back; and up the right side, and back, then up the center again, and all the while everyone sang a litany. There was incense. There was the choir in the procession. The priests were in purple; the altar was covered in purple. The procession, which I later learned was called the “holy pretzel” because it went around and around, was stately.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I stood there with wide eyes and a peaceful heart. I was back. After seventeen years of avoiding Lent, I was able to see it as something beautiful.
I pray that this season, which can be so hard for many reasons, may be a holy time for you. If all your life seems like a sacrifice, then do something different during Lent. Add some beauty or rest or pleasure. If sacrifice helps you see the generosity of God, then take on a sacrifice. But if none of that works for you, maybe you will join me, however you can, on the road to Jerusalem, knowing that this road that leads to death also leads to Life.