Finding Focus and Direction in Lent

Several years ago I found myself working in a parish in which the season of Lent had not, historically, been observed with any serious intentionality. In fact, there were individuals who simply disappeared after Shrove Tuesday and reappeared on Easter because Lent was “so sad” that they couldn’t tolerate it. As we approached Holy Week I even recall one person asking me, in what I believe was true sincerity, “How could they do all that to Jesus?” Granted, I am no theologian and would never presume to answer such a question but it did seem to me that we had lost something important by focusing only on sadness and misery and by painting the season as a great tragedy.

It took some convincing but eventually we proceeded into unfamiliar territory for the community. We committed to holding a prayer service each and every evening for the duration of Lent. Almost every service was led by a different person and every gathering from women’s group, to finance meeting, to choir practice, bible study, and youth group diverted the first piece of their gathering to participating in this service. As bothersome as it was to drag myself to this service day in and day out I would be lying if I said the experience was anything other than transformative. 

This communal practice allowed us pray together in a way we often did not. It held us accountable to our own claims that we did, in fact, pray every day. In what was nothing short of a miracle, it also managed to build community among people who had no desire to be around one another. This simple yet profound act of gathering for prayer together and prioritizing it in our lives changed the way we viewed each other, our community, and the work we had before us as the church. 

Why have I regaled you with this story? It is because I find myself in need of focus and direction this Lent and want to remind myself, and anyone else who may need it, that our common worship is one way to find this. We are fortunate to have many opportunities at St. Tim’s to be together. Many people have found our new Wednesday morning Eucharist to be quite grounding. Fridays are begun with the opportunity for morning prayer together, and Friday evenings are closed with a reflective walking of the Stations of the Cross.  Here, near the end of the page, is the lead that I’ve buried.

The Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross, is a paraliturgy that has here become perhaps more of a practice than a strong liturgy. I confess that every Friday evening as 7pm approaches I groan and wish I had not agreed to walk the stations of the cross. This is nothing new, it’s how I felt every Friday last year as well. But each night as I leave the sanctuary I quietly thank God that I drug myself there because I leave with a sense of calm, renewal, and purpose. It is a small group, sometimes led by robed leaders and sometimes just a rag-tag group of people searching for sustenance and meaning in this season of Lent. It takes maybe about 30 minutes to walk around the sanctuary, to recall the path Jesus walked for us with reflective readings and prayer and occasionally a bit of singing.

To be sure, I have no illusions that we will begin to gather in throngs and march together through the way of the cross. However, I challenge you to consider giving up a few minutes on one of the remaining Fridays in Lent to come and walk, to listen, to pray, remember, and in the quiet intimacy of this act to consider the gift and sacrifice which has bound us all together. You may just find yourself with a renewed sense of this season. And who knows, maybe one day we will gather as but a small segment of the throngs walking together the way of the cross. 

Together on the journey,

Zachary Allen