Monday, February 20, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

Most people who live and work in this world do not keep time with the church calendar.  Most let the calendar that society uses guide their lives.  When you work in the profession that I work in, though, one also uses the Church Year as a calendar because it directs us as to what we do in the church.  Mainline churches generally use what is called the "lectionary" to assist us in planning worship.  We also use the "Christian Year" as a way to prepare for major events in the life of the church (Christmas and Easter) and to help us plan what we will do during the rest of the year.  The Christian Year begins on the First Sunday of Advent (usually the Sunday following Thanksgiving or somewhere close to it) and works its way through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and then a very long season called either "after Pentecost" or "Ordinary Time" depending upon one's view of what non-special time should mean. 

This past Sunday was the last "Sunday after Epiphany" and this next Sunday is the "First Sunday in Lent".  This is a week of transition, moving from the season of light to the season of solemn reflection.  We were sharing stories during worship that had to do with Jesus' ministry and how that ministry illuminated others so that they could see the light of God reflected in the life of Jesus.  Now, we begin the journey that will take Jesus to the cross that will culminate in Good Friday and lead into the season of Easter.  The Season of Lent begins this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday, not a very jolly or celebrative service but one that confronts us with our mortality and our need for repentance.  Those who attend are marked with a mark of ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross as they hear the words, "Repent, and believe the Gospel".  Then, for 40 days (not counting Sundays) they dedicate themselves to a Lenten discipline of their choosing if they desire.  They may give up a certain food that they like or they may devote themselves to a spiritual practice that they normally do not participate in, such as spiritual reading or prayer. 

Transitions are a natural part of life.  People are born and people die.  Jobs begin and retirement comes.  People move from one place to another.  Transitions happen because change is a natural part of life.  Lent helps us to reflect upon our lives and what we want to be like in life.  Lent gives us the change to begin again once more.  We had that reminder in the culture on New Years Day when many people made resolutions and promised themselves to be better in some way.  Lent is another beginning time, offering us the opportunity to begin again spiritually.  Lent offers us our time in the desert that we need to reflect upon our lives and our relationship with God. 

To quote a Christian song from the 1970s, "A new beginning is just beginning, a breakthrough, a winning...a new beginning is just beginning to take hold in my life."  Begin again, one more time, and see what your outlook and your life will feel like when Easter dawns on you in six more weeks. 

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