Most days, I masquerade as a perfectly normal Mainline Protestant. Phrases like “priesthood of all believers,” “saved by faith alone” and “congregational meeting” roll off my tongue like honey. I’m just fine with there being only two Sacraments. I creatively mold traditional liturgy into something that resonates with modern people rather than sticking strictly to an “approved” text. I was even ordained into Christian ministry on Reformation Sunday (Oct. 31), just to prove how much I love the post-Luther church. (And, because it was the date that worked for everyone’s calendars.)
As soon as we hit Ash Wednesday, though, I begin to show my real colors. During Lent, I would like nothing more than to run down the street shouting, “From Ashes to Ashes, From Dust to Dust you shall return.” (I suspect that behavior might get some weird stares or possibly even the attention of the police.) I want to ask everyone what they are giving up and what new behavior they are taking on for Lent. Look out, as soon as we get to Holy Week, I am gaga over waving palm branches, washing feet, stations of the cross and Easter Vigils with their dramatic processions with water, fire and oil. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
You can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but not the Catholic out of the girl.
My affection for this season of reflection, prayer and fasting did not emerge overnight. As an elementary student at a Catholic School, we had to attend the stations of the cross every Friday during Lent. I found this ritual decidedly creepy. (And, it actually is. When do we ever walk alongside someone during their final hours?)
As an adult and Protestant pastor, I just love reclaiming the rituals of Lent/Holy Week mostly associated with Catholicism for a Protestant audience. There’s nothing like watching a bunch of white protestants balance precariously a hymnal in one hand and shake a palm branch in the other. Or get them in their tentative little voices to shout, “Hosanna” or, better yet, “Crucify Him!” during the reading of the Passion story. Or remind them that they will eventually die by smearing last year’s burned palm branches on their foreheads.
When else do you get to spend 40 days giving up something you really need to let go of? God knows we like to hold onto our baggage otherwise. When do you get time to reflect, pray and contemplate giving more to the poor? Otherwise, I’d spend too much time and money looking for sales in my email inbox to buy stuff I really don’t need. Or when do you get to witness in the reading/listening/watching of the story of God’s Son demonstrating his love for us by walking knowingly into certain death? I need to be reminded once a year that I am loved that much.
I think the creepiness of the season is kind of the point. Lent should make us uncomfortable. It should remind us of death, of the ways in which we wrong one another, our communities and our planet. Lent should humble us — remind us that no amount of money or other stuff will keep us alive forever. Only God can … and does … that for us.
I don’t know about you, but I can really use this good dose of Lenten humility once a year.