Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mothering Sunday


This Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, is called Laetare Sunday or “Refreshment Sunday.” It is from an old prayer that begins the service of Eucharist for that day, “Rejoice, with Jerusalem” (in Latin Laetare cum Hierusalem) pointing in hope to the victory about to be won. 

Historically, Lent was observed very strictly and very severely. A bit of refreshment and laetare was called for midway through the season.

But this Sunday has another feature. It was a custom in England, several hundred years ago, to visit one’s “Mother Church” or cathedral on this Sunday.  This practice naturally led to family reunions and celebrations. Another historical element was that young girls and boys in domestic service were allowed to go home one day each year to visit their mothers, (yes, just one day each year!) and it was traditionally on this Sunday that the leave was granted. This became known as "going a-mothering" and the day was called Mothering Sunday.  Tradition has it that a special cake, called a simnel cake, made with marzipan and dried fruit, was part of the occasion.

In England today this Sunday is simply called Mother’s Day; the historical element largely ignored in favor of flowers and sentimental greeting cards.

Here is something pretty for the day -

I’ll to thee a Simnel bring
‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give to me.’ 
Robert Herrick 1648

*This cemetery has particular significance to me as my mother and I used to walk in it in the evening gathering violets that grew wild there.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What Some People Say About Lent

Every Lent, we ought to be looking at the various ways in which we get involved in manufacturing the gods that suit us.  Every Lent is a time to get that little bit further beyond the idolatry, that constantly keeps us prisoner and draws us back to the old world.  When Jesus has cleared out the temple, when he has thrown out those people involved in manufacturing religion, there he stands with his friends in a great silence and a great space.  And he says: this is the space where all people may feel at home; this is a space large enough for all to come because this is where God lives.
                                               Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,
                                                                       from a Sermon, March 11, 2012

In this season of Lent, we take some time to focus on what that means for our lives, whether it is as simple as giving up chocolate candy or as profound as taking on a commitment to serve the poor or to serve others in some new way. Whatever it is, let that something be something that helps you participate in the movement of God's love in this world following in the footsteps of Jesus.
                                                                     Presiding Bishop Michael Curry,
                   Lenten message to the Episcopal Church, February 10, 2016

I believe at the heart of our Lenten journey is the opportunity for us to decrease    so that Christ can increase in and through us.
                                                                      Brian Prior, Bishop of Minnesota,
                                                                       Blog Post February 25, 2014

Lent begins not with confession. Lent begins with love. Lent is like a retreat. The first and central point is reclaim, renew and refresh our identity as God’s beloved children.
                                      Brother Luke Ditewig, Society of Saint John the Evangelist
                                                                           Blog Post February 24, 2013

From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, Christians are invited to do without some things they are perfectly capable of having -- such as rich food or loud parties with their friends -- and to take on some things that they are just as capable of avoiding -- such as a moral inventory or a lunch date with someone they are mad at.
"Lent," it is called, from an English word meaning "spring"-- not just a reference to the crocuses pushing their ways out of the ground in the season before Easter, but also to the greening of the human soul--pruned with repentance, fertilized with fasting, spritzed with self-appraisal, mulched with prayer. 
                                                                         Barbara Brown Taylor

                                                                 from a Sermon, February 21, 2010

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The “A” Word

The word “Alleluia” translates “Praise the Lord.” It is a statement of unreserved joy and gladness. It speaks of salvation, glory and the goodness of God.

We neither say nor sing this word during Lent. God, of course, still deserves our praise, but we refrain from this one particular word to remind us of the solemn nature of the season. Recalling the Babylonian exile, the psalmist asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?” (Psalm 137) During Lent, we are effectively living on an alien soil. Mindful in this season of our distance from God, we intentionally work to draw closer. If you feel that you miss the alleluia during Lent, if its absence saddens you just a bit, then the tradition is doing its job.

We put the word away so that we may shout and sing it with abandon at Easter. It rests hidden during Lent. At Easter we give it no rest at all.

Here at my church, Nativity Episcopal, we literally hide the alleluia. With the help of our young faithful, we decorate an alleluia banner, making it as spectacular and gaudy as possible, and then hide it somewhere in the church until, on Easter, it is joyfully found, unfurled and proclaimed.  Suddenly, all those unspoken and unsung alleluias burst forth with renewed meaning.

But for now … shhh!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lent Basics

The word “Lent” comes from the Old Anglo-Saxon word, lencton, meaning lengthening, as in the time of the year when the days get longer. Because it always occurs (in the northern hemisphere) at this lengthening time of the year, Lent basically means “Spring.” As with many elements of our Church Year and liturgy, traditions around Lent developed over time.

We know that in the Apostles’ time, people did not actually prepare for Baptism, see the compelling example in Acts 8. But a century or two later, people typically received Baptism at Easter time, and there was a period of preparation imposed. At first, days and then weeks before Easter were spent in preparation. 

In the 4th Century, the Lenten period was regularized to 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and, excluding Sundays, up to the Vigil of Easter, the traditional time for Baptisms.Later all members of the church participated in the Lenten preparation as each year brought a new chance to renew one’s relationship with the Lord.

These days of Lent are tied to the 40 days when Jesus fasted in the desert, but because 40 is such an important number in all Scripture, we can draw a connection to the 40 days of the flood in Genesis as well as the 40 years of the Israelites' wandering in the desert. The number 40 signifies a completion of a task, a reward earned: Jesus’ ministry, the rainbow after the flood, the Promised Land. And, of course, there are 40 weeks in a typical pregnancy.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three traditional disciplines of Lent. As a means of repentance and devotion they are deeply rooted in the Old Testament; Jesus, as an observant Jew, built his ministry around these practices. To “have the mind of Christ” as Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 2:16, we are invited to walk beside Jesus through his life and ministry. But because we are imperfect in this walk, we repeat it year after year.

The color for Lent is purple, a solemn and penitential but also a royal color. There are no flowers in the sanctuary during Lent. In our church, Nativity Episcopal, the fourteen Stations of the Cross are mounted on the side walls. The choir and the altar party process in silence. We neither sing nor say alleluia.  Incidentally, Lent is officially over with the first "alleluia" at the vigil. Scripture readings and hymns reflect the tone of the season. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is in mounting danger as his ministry intensifies. We are reminded of the very high stakes upon which our salvation is based.

In modern times, some Christians have distanced themselves from what may seem like the harsh and coercive practices of Lent.  We see that Lenten disciplines are inconvenient and burdensome, but perhaps the reward at the end might make it all worthwhile. The Resurrection is Christ’s and ours, too, if we want it.

“Lent is one of those elements of Christian practice that binds the Christian community to one another and to its beginnings.”
Sr Joan Chittister
The Liturgical Year