Lent Versus Easter: The Importance of Seasonal Spiritual Practices

Lent Versus Easter_2He is Risen!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Happy, Happy Easter, good friends!!!

After a demanding and exhausting Lent, I greeted Easter Sunday morning with jubilation.  My husband and I went to church that morning in our Sunday best.  His shirt pressed.  My hair curled.  Then, along with our black lab donning a bright white bow, we met up with family for brunch.  The adults drank gin and tonic’s.  The kids searched for eggs.  We all indulged in ham, asparagus, potatoes, cake, candy, and cookies.  

I greeted that Easter Sunday evening, however, with less enthusiasm.  I had a stomach ache from all the sugar and a headache from all the alcohol.  Without my Lenten sacrifices and my practices, I felt unmoored and unsettled.  

I had been so intentional about how I would observe the Lenten season, but I had given almost no thought to how I would celebrate the Easter season.

In the Catholic tradition, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends 40 days later with Holy Thursday.  Then, the Easter season begins with Resurrection Sunday and ends 50 days later with Pentecost Sunday.

Lent is a time of fasting; Easter is a time of feasting.

Lent is a time of abstinence; Easter is a time of abundance.

Lent is a time of contrition; Easter is a time of celebration.

Most years, I regard Easter as an excuse to abandon my spiritual practices.  This year, however, after such a grueling Lent, Easter seemed different to me.  It was not a reason to pause my practices.  It was an opportunity to change my spiritual practices.  

Lent, after all, is just the opening act for the main event.  The resurrection is not the end of Lent; it is the beginning of Easter.  It inaugurates the new world and the new life for which we’ve been preparing.  

So, this year, I’ve decided to mark the Easter season as intentionally and diligently as I marked Lent.  I’m trading in my fast from sweets for prayers over all my meals.  I’m trading in my Evening Prayer for a daily gratitude journal.  

I still spend time with my Bible.  But, rather than dwelling in the dark scriptures, I bask in the Gospels’ resurrection accounts.  I still work in my journal.  But, rather than listing my shortcomings or supplications, I count my blessings.  I still offer up prayers.  But, rather than mourning over my sins, I rejoice in my salvation.  In this way, Easter does not thoughtlessly discard my Lenten spiritual practices; it thoughtfully builds upon them.

It is easy to see Lent as a goal we accomplish or a season we survive.  The penitential season, however, is actually just a preparation for the Easter celebration.  So, how do you intend to mark this Easter season?  How do you intend to embrace the new life and the new world that Easter brings?

A Beginner’s Prayer for Holy Thursday

Holy WeekHoly Thursday 2013.  I invited (dragged?) my now-husband, then-boyfriend to Mass without dinner.  The liturgy, full of chanting and processing, took three hours.  An argument, fueled by two, tired, angry, hungry people ensued.

With that memory in mind, I put together the Catholic Cliff Notes version of Holy Thursday.  If you’re attending a service this evening, it will help you navigate the liturgy. If not, it will help you commemorate this holy day on your own.  I invite you not just to read it, but to pray it.  I hope that the guide below will help you experience and appreciate Holy Thursday.  

Good and gracious God, send your spirit down upon me.  Quiet my heart and mind to hear your voice, see your movement, and feel your presence.  May your scriptures reveal to me your most perfect person and plan for our salvation.

  • The Institution of the Eucharist

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28; NRSV)

  • The Institution of the Priesthood

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:3-15; NRSV)

  • The Announcement of the New Commandment

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35; NRSV)

  • Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.  And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not keep awake one hour?  Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him.  He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Enough!  The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up, let us be going.  See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42; NRSV)

If time permits, meditate with this Taize chant, or journal your reflections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7GexIvX8HU

We praise you, Lord, for your infinite grace.  In becoming human, you experienced the incredible joys and pains of this life and this world.  We thank you, Lord, for saving and shepherding your people.  Please be with us throughout this Holy Week.  Help us to better know and appreciate your dying on the cross, so that we may better know and appreciate your rising from the tomb.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Thanksgiving: ACTS Series

ACTS Series_ThanksgivingMy professor, an Old Testament scholar and professional trumpet player, made the comment almost in passing.  It was our last class before Thanksgiving break and finals, and he trying to cover as much information as possible.  After the hour-long lecture on the Pentateuch, he seamlessly and suddenly shifted gears.  “Now, before you go,” he said, “I want to send you off with a question to consider over the break.  To whom are we giving our thanks this holiday? Can we give thanks without a recipient?”  He paused to let the question sink in.  Then, he clapped his hands and dismissed the class.

Almost five years later, I am still wrestling with his question.  As someone who lives in two worlds, one that worships God and one that denies Him, the seemingly benign question is complex and controversial.  

To be fair, America’s first presidents gave their thanks neither to the universe in general or to Christ in particular.  Rather, they expressed their gratitude to a nominally Judeo-Christian deity. In the first Thanksgiving proclamation, George Washington devoted the day “to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, and that will be.”  He went on to list “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Similarly, Lincoln, in the midst of the American Civil War, described the day as one “of Thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the universe.”

The Bible, of course, abounds with more specific and poetic examples of thanksgiving. Countless men and women, from the Old and New Testaments, from the Psalmist to Christ, offer thanks to God the Father.  I could easily list endless verses.

I find these presidential examples, however, more striking and inspiring.  Prayer, in any form, is radical these days.  It acknowledges something bigger than, better than ourselves.

Our culture, to the contrary, insists that we can do it all.  We need only try hard enough or work hard enough.  Everything we have and everything we are is our own creation. Everything we lack and everything we are not is our own fault.  

The ancient Israelites, I think, would call those beliefs blasphemous.  God is our only Creator and Provider.  The presidents knew this.  My professor knew this.  And, yet, I always forget it.

The purpose of the Thanksgiving component of the ACTS prayer, for me, then, is two-fold. First, of course, it gives credit where credit is due.  It acknowledges the supremacy and generosity of God.

Second, however, it reminds us – and reassures us – of the supremacy and generosity of God.  It prevents us from believing the we are sovereign creators and providers. It keeps us from worshipping ourselves and others as gods.

After five years of reflection, then, my answer to the professor is simply no.  You cannot offer thanks without, at least subconsciously, naming a creator or provider.  To say “thank you” is to acknowledge a “you.”  

The real question, then, is who is the “you.”  Are we treating ourselves and others as gods? Or, are we recognizing and appreciating the Triune God?  

Only then, only after answering those questions can we truly embody the example of the Psalmist:

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;/ for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1; NRSV).

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Confession, and Supplication.

On Holy Week

Holy Week_1I received the reference book in eighth grade, from a dear family friend, for my Confirmation.  I turn to it when I have practical questions, not when I need spiritual encouragement.  I look to it for information, not inspiration.  I was surprised, then, when I recently stumbled upon a lovely little phrase.  The Triduum, it said, is that “to which all leads and from which all flows.”  The Triduum’s power and beauty, it seemed, had seeped into even the dullest, driest texts.

The Triduum, according to the Catholic tradition, refers to the three holy days before Easter.  It begins with sunset on Holy Thursday and ends at sunset on Holy Saturday.  It commemorates the Last Supper and the lengthy Passion, and it concludes as the celebration of the resurrection begins.  

For Christians, these events are truly “to which all leads and from which all flows.”  Each of them reveals a different component of Christ’s identity and our salvation.

The power and beauty of these events can seep into the driest, darkest, and dirtiest of hearts.  It can revive them.  It can restore them.  It can resurrect them.

After forty long days of Lent, I am eagerly anticipating the Triduum.  I am looking forward to meditating on these sacred events.  On each day of the Triduum, I will post a short reflection here on the blog.  I invite you to join me to more fully experience and embrace these highest holy days.

As that dry reference book stated, the events surrounding Christ’s dying and rising are “to which all leads and from which all flows.”  They are the core of our faith, and their commemoration can revive our faith.  My hope is that, come Easter Sunday, we will all better appreciate not just the power and beauty of these events but the power and beauty of our God.

How To Have a Last-Minute Lent

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_1I’ve been there; we’ve all been there.  

First, the candy starts appearing in the convenience and grocery stores.  The bulbous Reese’s Eggs and the shimmering Yellow Peeps.

People start making plans for Spring Break.  Road trips to the beach or the nearby amusement park.

March Madness comes and goes.  Baseball season begins.

The sun returns; the leaves re-appear; your winter coat gets packed away.

Then, one Sunday, you arrive at church to find everyone holding palms and the pastor talking about extra parking for the holiday services.

Easter is right around the corner.  

And, you didn’t even see it coming.

Such is life.  It gets busy.  You really did mean to prepare for Easter thoughtfully and faithfully.  You just didn’t get around to it.

It’s okay.  I’ve been there.  We’ve all been there.

And, the good news is: you haven’t missed it yet!  You’ve still got time!

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_2So, how can you make the most of the next few days?  How can you prepare to truly experience the beauty of the Last Supper, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the joy of the Resurrection?

1. Give Up Something You Love.

Intentional sacrifice reminds us how deeply we need and desire Christ.  I gave up desserts for Lent this year, and I am looking forward to Easter with all of my physical senses.  Its sweet scent.  Its cool texture.  The colorful sprinkles.  I’m desiring the Resurrection in spirit and body.

Since there isn’t too much time before Easter, consider giving up something you enjoy routinely.  Like meat or bread or alcohol or coffee.  Give up something you consume regularly, and you’ll be craving Easter asap.

2. Give Away Something You Want to Keep.

Almsgiving has long been part of the Lenten tradition.  Instead of giving a monetary donation or doing volunteer work, consider giving away something you really like. When we feel the pain of sacrifice, we better appreciate Christ’s costly sacrifice for us.

Some possible ideas:

  • Donate one of your favorite pieces of clothing to Goodwill.
  • Give one of your favorite mugs or books to a friend who is struggling right now.
  • Buy a snack or coffee for a friend or colleague with whom you’re struggle right now.
  • Grant forgiveness to someone from whom you’ve been refusing it.
  • Intentionally give your sins to Christ.

3. Read the Scriptures Surrounding Easter.

Each of the Gospel writers has an account of the events surrounding Easter.  Consider starting with the Preparations for Passover and continuing through the Resurrection.

  • Matthew 26-28
  • Mark 14-16
  • Luke 22-24:12
  • John 13; 17-20:18

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_3

4. Attend an Additional Church Service.

The Resurrection on Sunday is only one part of the Easter story.  Many Protestant churches commemorate the Passion with a Good Friday service sometime between noon and three.  Some churches even present Living Stations.  Most Catholic churches also have special services on Thursday and Friday evening to mark the Last Supper and Good Friday.  

If you can’t make it to a church service, consider watching DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt or Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  I’ll also be sharing a reflection here next week for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

5. Listen to Christian Music.

The background noises in our lives affect us in profound ways.  Try tuning into Christian music to keep your mind and heart oriented toward Christ.  I recommend checking out Gungor, Run River North, Emeli Sandí, or Punch Brothers.  Not all of these artists are “Christian” per se, but their songs delve into the spiritual themes.

6. Listen to Christian Podcasts.

A good podcast is a great way to restart or reassess your spiritual journey.  Right now, I’m enjoying The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Catholic Stuff You Should Know.  I also have a love-hate relationship with The Liturgists.

7. Pray daily.

Take 15 minutes apart from the chaos of daily life to soak in the peace and joy of Christ. If you need some guidance and structure, feel free to join me on Facebook Live each night through April 12th for Evening Prayer.  I also recommend the Pray-As-You-Go podcast.

A Final Note:

These Lenten practices, of course, are only a means to an end.  We do not keep them to satisfy some rule or to elevate our own status.  We keep them as a way to deepen our relationship with Christ.  The practices are the means; the relationship is the end.

Easter, with all its candies and brunches, will come regardless of your preparations for it or celebration of it.  Just like spring.  Just like baseball season.  Lent, however, offers us an opportunity to experience and appreciate that Easter holiday in a more meaningful way.  Even at the last minute.

So, buy the candy.  Put away your winter coat.  And, take a few minutes to pray.  God is right there.

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