We are now just a few days from the final week of Lent. The last two weeks of Lent are known as Passiontide, and are a period of greater solemnity for Christians, culminating in Holy Week which parallels the final days of Jesus’ life leading to his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. The last day of Holy Week is known as Holy Saturday and traditionally has been a time of stillness and expectation as Christians await the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. All of Lent is a time of reflection, teaching and spiritual exercises as we prepare ourselves for Easter by drawing closer to our Lord. The 40 Days of Lent (Sundays are excluded) correspond to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness during which time he withdrew from others to work on his inner life with God. For Christians, Lent has often been a time of “giving up” and “taking up,” all of which require discipline and dedication. My friend, Bishop Philip Poole, loves to greet his fellow bishops with humor during this season by wishing them a “dismal Lent.”
My earliest memories of a Lenten practice go back to elementary school when it was customary for the entire school to go to church on Ash Wednesday. Throughout the Lenten season there were prayers reflecting the Lenten journey along with the regular prayers that began most days in school. During Holy Week, as we prepared for our Easter holidays, there was always an Easter Assembly to remind us of what Easter was about. The local clergy were almost always there for that Assembly and as a school child I was always glad to see “my minister” at “my school.” Much of that practice has been discontinued but as someone who grew up in the old school system and who understands the reasons behind the changes these days, I still mourn the loss of something that had great value for me.
During Lent this year I found myself on the road quite a bit with many nights away from home, attending various church services and visiting different parishes. Next week – Holy Week – I am already scheduled for seven different events in seven different places, including Her Majesty’s Penitentiary. Life as a bishop can sometimes be hard on your spiritual life because you don’t belong to any one community and don’t have the blessing of the familiar rhythm common to parish life. Not that the rhythm of a parish doesn’t present its own challenges. In talking with many of our clergy this week I found them looking ahead to Holy Week with fear and anticipation. Holy Week often has a ferocious pace for parish clergy with all of its worship services and other events, frequently made more intense by unexpected emergencies and funerals. By the time Easter Sunday is over most clergy are pretty tired and it is my hope that all of them will find time to catch up on their rest and spend time with family during Easter Week. I ask that the members of our parishes encourage those who lead them and care for them to take some time off after Easter.
And so, as we enter Holy Week with its dramatic journey toward Good Friday leading on to Easter Sunday, I urge everyone to share in the public and corporate worship of your church and also give special attention to your own private and individual disciplines of Lent. I pray that the Lenten season for you will be a time of renewal and spiritual refreshment so that when Easter comes with its celebration of new life it will truly be a festival of joy for you.
I end with this Collect for the Sunday of the Passion commonly known as Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everliving God, in tender love for all our human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take our flesh and suffer death upon a cruel cross. May we follow the example of his great humility, and share in the glory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen