Eternal Lord of love, behold your church
walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent,
led by your cloud by day, by night your fire,
moved by your love and toward your presence bent;
far off yet here –
the goal of all desire.
So daily dying to the way of self,
so daily living to your way of love,
we walk the road, Lord Jesus, that you trod,
knowing ourselves baptized into your death:
so we are dead and live with you in God.
If dead in you, so in you we arise,
you the first-born of all the faithful dead;
and as through stony ground the green shoots break,
glorious in springtime dress of leaf and flower,
so in the Father’s glory shall we wake.
~Thomas H. Cain (1931-2003), Common Praise 174
The author of this hymn, Thomas Cain, was Professor of English literature at McMaster University for 31 years. He was also a church organist and chorister, latterly singing at St. John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster, Ontario. He wrote this hymn for the Episcopal Church’s hymnal (1982). It is now found in Roman Catholic and Lutheran hymnals as we as the 1998 hymnal currently in use in the Anglican Church of Canada.
In a few short verses Cain captures the diverse themes of Lent: the journeying of a pilgrim people as in the days of the Exodus from Egypt; the Christian’s following of Christ towards the cross; baptism as a sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection; the glory prepared for us in God’s eternity.
The exhortation to the faithful on Ash Wednesday expresses the character of the season thus:
Dear friends in Christ, every year at the time of the Christian Passover we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin this holy season by remembering our need for repentance, and for the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ….I invite your therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God. (Book of Alternative Services, 281-282)
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2. The Ash Wednesday liturgy with the imposition of ashes will be celebrated at St. Mary Magdalene’s, Chelsea at 7:15 a.m. and at Good Shepherd, Wakefield at 5:15 p.m.
The spiritual practices that the exhortation commends are always characteristic of the Christian life, but Lent provides the occasion to enter into them more deeply and to be renewed in those in which we have become careless. As a parish, we have a number of ways to keep Lent.
First among these is our participation in the Sunday liturgy. All of us are emerging from restrictions necessitated by the pandemic. Although some remain, we can again participate more fully in common worship, including congregational song. Although the Church refrains from singing “Alleluia” until Easter, the voice of praise by no means goes silent during Lent.
We can take part in common prayer throughout the week, as well. Mondays to Thursdays, we celebrate Morning Prayer from 8:15-8:30 a.m. via Zoom.
The other side of prayer, so to speak, is the imageless, wordless prayer of meditation. The author of the 14th century classic of English spirituality, The Cloud of Unknowing, put it thus: “God can be loved, but not thought. By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking” (chapter 6). In meditation, we lay aside discursive thought about God in order to give place to the deeper, wordless movement of our spirit toward the Spirit of God. A group meets on Monday evenings at 7:15 via Zoom in order to receive instruction and to practice this way of prayer.
There will be a book study of a recent publication by Richard Rohr, in conjunction with other Anglicans in the diocese of Ottawa: The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder. (Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2020.) 204 pages. Paperback: $24.75; Kindle: $8.49. Tuesdays, March 8-April 5, 7:00-8:30 p.m. via Zoom. Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He is the author of numerous books, including Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. He is academic dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation, the mission of which is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world.
Rohr calls Christians to look carefully at where we are (order), identify the things that don’t work (disorder), and then create something new (reorder). But as Father Rohr points out, our inclination is to avoid step two – disorder – and move too quickly to step three, reorder. The whole movement of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter reminds us, however, that this is not possible. We simply cannot get to the Resurrection without first experiencing and embracing the Crucifixion. Copies of the book will be available from Perfect Books in Ottawa. If you would like a copy, please let me know. Electronic versions of the book can be had from the usual sources.
Pondering the Gospel On Thursday, March 3-April 7 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. we will practice Lectio Divina via Zoom. Lectio Divina is a contemplative way of reading the Bible. It dates to the early centuries of the Christian Church and was established as a monastic practice by Benedict in the 6th century. It is a way of praying the scriptures that leads us deeper into God’s word. It is not Bible Study as such.. This approach understands the Scriptures as a meeting place for a personal encounter with the living God. It engages the heart — the deep centre of ourselves where we may be formed into the likeness of Christ. Adapted for group use, the method includes respectful listening to the experience of others, rather than insisting on a particular point of view or opinion. We will ponder the gospel for the coming Sunday.
Individuals and households can also embrace a form of fasting and abstinence appropriate to their situation. The Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada expects us to abstain from meat on Fridays during the year and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Those who are sick, aged, or infirm are not expected to fast. A fast does not necessarily mean not eating or drinking at all. It usually means limiting oneself to one meatless meal in the day, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equivalent to a full meal. Jesus said, “When you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matthew 6:16). This ancient practice is not an end in itself or a way to lose weight or sleep better. When we pay greater attention to what and how we eat, we cultivate thankfulness and recognize our solidarity with all those who experience food scarcity around the world.
We regularly take part in the ministry of Christ’s reconciliation especially during public worship. One may also make a confession at any time in the presence of a priest. As the Prayer Book expresses it, this useful especially for anyone who “cannot quiet his own conscience herein,
but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word, he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and the avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness” (p.91). Should you desire this form of prayer, please contact me.
The word almsgiving may have a slightly archaic ring to it, but its pertinence is as contemporary as ever. Love for our neighbour is foundational to the Christian life. We can show love by the giving of money, food, or other material goods to those living in poverty. The word “alms” derives from an ancient Greek word meaning compassion or mercy. God’s own self-definition is “The Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6).
Almsgiving incorporates the spiritual practices of prayer and fasting in a way that manifests itself by caring for our neighbours in need. It can deepen our prayer as we are brought into contact with our brothers and sisters who live in poverty and give us a greater understanding of what it means to go without while fasting.
It can also prompt important questions: Do I really need this? Am I consuming too much?
Almsgiving provides us with a human connection and the opportunity to see the impact that works of charity can have on others. In our baptismal covenant we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and [to] respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Alternative Services, p. 159). Almsgiving is a means of seeing our neighbour as “another self.” We remove the human barriers that may separate us. Almsgiving during Lent encourages us to let go of our own desires and focus on the needs of those less fortunate. We sacrifice our own material comfort for the sake of the well-being of another. We learn to rely on God to meet our needs rather than on ourselves.
There are many, many ways to give alms. Through the Christian community itself we can give to our parish in support of the outreach our churches undertake. We can contribute to community ministries of the Diocese of Ottawa. See https://www.todayfortomorrow.ca/community-ministries-gift-guide for the range of those ministries
All of this is leading us, of course, to the heart of the Christian year, the celebration of the Lord’s death and rising – the paschal mystery. Holy Week this year begins on Sunday, April 10, with Easter Sunday being April 17. I will provide details of services for the Great Week later.
May the God of mercy transform you by his grace this Lent.