I’m not preaching a series on Lent this year.
I spent a lot of time wrestling with this, and it wasn’t a decision I came to lightly. In the past two years at Collective Church (which is also the entire life of our church up to this point, by the way) I have preached through the season of Lent, and I’ve really enjoyed it.
In 2014—our first year—I preached about what it means to be WITHOUT. Since Lent is a season in which people fast, I thought it would be interesting to explore the feeling of absence—the absence of God, the absence of normalcy, the absence of comfort, the absence of faith, etc. (If you want to hear this series, you can find it on our podcast feed)
In 2015, I preached through the a series of Bible passages about the Babylonian Exile—one of the darkest periods of time recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, and a subject about which many pages of the Bible have been written. I spent several weeks of that series exploring the book of Lamentations and how loss is a big part of our faith. (If you want to hear this series, you can find it on our podcast feed, too)
But this year turned out a little different. I usually plan sermon series about six-to-nine months ahead of time, and I had every intention of keeping my Lent tradition alive. However, as I was preparing and researching and exploring my own questions, I realized this year needed to be a bit different. I knew that we would be in the midst of a series about emotional wholeness—which I am currently preaching through and is called I Want to Get Better—and I knew that we needed more time than the six weeks of 2016 leading up to Lent would allow. Also, I knew that I wanted to do a very specific pre-Easter series that would take two or three weeks. So Lent was getting tricky. Ultimately, I decided to engage Lent on my blog (which is what I’m doing right now) while allowing the Sunday services at Collective Church to go where I felt they naturally needed to go this year.
So if you are a member of Collective Church or someone who listens online, I’m sorry if you’re disappointed that we won’t be journeying through Lent together as we’ve done in the past. I’m sure we will return to form in the future, but this year required something else.
That’s one of the beautiful things about our church—our people are very gracious and flexible. Sometimes we dive directly into the tradition, and sometimes we take a side road, looking for something that may not be on the beaten path.
So here’s what I’d like to do right now: I would like give you a bit of encouragement if you are preparing yourself or your family for the season of Lent.
Lent is the time of year when people—millions of people—prepare for Resurrection Sunday (Easter). The most common form of Lenten observation is fasting—to remove something from your everyday life as a way to prepare and anticipate the celebration that Christ is risen and that the tomb is empty.
Maybe you’re about to enter this season, and you don’t really know what you’re looking for or hoping to experience. May I offer a few possibilities?
Maybe you need to turn the volume down.
The act of fasting—the removal of something from your life—is a great way to turn down the volume on your regular routines. This can very naturally give us space to encounter something new. The removal of something can create new space in which you can reflect on something else.
So maybe you feel like every day is the same as the day before. Maybe you have this endless sense that nothing will ever change and that you are out of new insights or ideas. Perhaps you are desperate for a fresh word to be spoken in your life. Maybe you need to clear out the cobwebs and create space for a fresh experience with the Divine. If so, Lent may be a time in which you begin listening in a new way.
Maybe you need a newfound sense of rhythm.
Something that I’ve heard lots of well-meaning Christians say is, “Faith isn’t about religion, it’s about a relationship.” What people typically mean when they say this is that Jesus loves us unconditionally, regardless of our various practices or traditions, which I totally affirm.
However, I think there is something beautiful about religion, when it is engaged in a healthy way. Religion, at its best, calls us to our roots and invites us into a deep, rich story. When we observe Lent—or Easter or Christmas or Advent or any of the other traditions in our story—it reminds us that we are part of something and it reminds us of the rhythms of our own lives and faith.
Maybe things feel chaotic right now, and participating in Lent might give you a renewed sense of balance and consistency. Perhaps Lent is a time when you take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that life is meant to have rhythm.
Maybe you need to feel connected to something bigger than yourself.
To me, this is where Lent has always had its power—that there are millions of other people all over the world who are also participating in this at the same time. To participate in Lent is to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that this whole thing is way bigger than any of us.
Lent is a time of anticipation and hope—it is a time when we find ourselves wrestling with the realities of death and resurrection. People have been doing this for thousands of years, and we come from a long line of participants. We are joining with millions as we all look forward to Resurrection Sunday, when we will celebrate the empty tomb.
Perhaps Lent is a combination of all of these things for you. Perhaps you don’t really know what you’re looking for, but you know you are looking for something. I don’t know. There are lots of people who know a lot more about Lent and the Church Calendar than I do, and they probably have blog posts this week that are way better than mine. I’m still new to all of this.
Here’s what I do know: Every time I have participated in Lent—every time I have fasted and engaged this tradition as best I could—Easter has felt richer to me when it arrived. The anticipation and ultimate experience of Resurrection Sunday is heightened when I participate in Lent.
So I’ll be doing that this year. If you won’t be participating, that’s fine. I don’t do it every year, and maybe it’s not practical for you to do that this year. No problem.
But if you are participating in Lent, I’m with you. I’m cheering you on. I hope you experience something beautiful and transcendent and profound as you anticipate Resurrection Sunday.
May this season be filled with wonder and hope, and may you celebrate when Resurrection Sunday arrives.
Grace and peace.
*ALSO, if you want to see what sermons are coming up at Collective Church, here’s the schedule for the Lent season:
February 14 – I Want to Get Better, Part 7 (Rob Carmack)
February 21 - I Want to Get Better, Part 8 (Rob Carmack)
February 28 – Christina Gibson!
March 6 – The Confusing Terrible, Wonderful Cross, Part 1 (Rob Carmack)
March 13 - The Confusing Terrible, Wonderful Cross, Part 2 (Rob Carmack)
March 20 - The Confusing Terrible, Wonderful Cross, Part 3 (Rob Carmack)
March 27 – Resurrection Sunday (Rob Carmack)