“Contrary to what many think or feel, Lent is a time of joy. It is a time when we come back to life. It is a time when we shake off what is bad and dead in us in order to become able to live, to live with all the vastness, all the depth, and all the intensity to which we are called. Unless we understand this quality of joy in Lent, we will make of it a monstrous caricature, a time when in God’s own name we make our life a misery. This notion of joy connected with effort, with ascetical endeavour, with strenuous effort may indeed seem strange, and yet it runs through the whole of our spiritual life, through the life of the Church and the life of the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is something to be conquered. It is not simply given to those who leisurely, lazily wait for it to come. To those who wait for it in that spirit, it will come indeed: it will come at midnight; it will come like the Judgement of God, like the thief who enters when he is not expected, like the bridegroom, who arrives while the foolish virgins are asleep. This is not the way in which we should await Judgement and the Kingdom. Here again we need to recapture an attitude of mind which usually we can’t manage to conjure up out of our depth, something which had become strangely alien to us: the joyful expectation of the Day of the Lord – in spite of the fact that we know this Day will be a Day of judgement. It may strike us as strange to hear that in Church we proclaim the Gospel – the ‘good news’ – of judgement, and yet we do. We proclaim that the Day of the Lord is not fear, but hope, and declare together with the spirit of the Church: ‘Come, Lord Jesus, and come soon’ (cf. Rev. 22.20). So long as we are incapable of speaking in these terms, we lack something important in our Christian consciousness. We are still, whatever we may say, pagans dressed up in evangelical garments. We are still people for whom God is a God outside of us, for whom his coming is darkness and fear, and whose judgement is not our redemption but our condemnation, for whom to meet the Lord is a dread event and … not the event we long and live for. Unless we realise this, then Lent cannot be a joy, since Lent brings with it both judgement and responsibility: we must judge ourselves in order to become able to meet the Day of the Lord, the Resurrection, with an open heart, with faith, ready to rejoice in the fact that he has come.”
The joy of Lent! How do we approach this spirit of joyful effort to which the Metropolitan alludes? Here are a few practical and positive suggestions:
Keep the fast! But do not allow the fast to be your primary preoccupation. Fasting is simplification and focus, not self-torture. Fasting is discipline not depression. Fasting is sacrifice, but life is about sacrifice anyway.
- Pray! All of us can and should pray more than we do. Do you have a “Rule of Daily Prayer”? If you would like information about this, talk to or email Fr. James or myself. Daily prayer will change your life!
- Read! The daily readings for Lent shift from the Epistles and Gospels to the Old Testament. These are books that most of us never read, and they are a wonderful and challenging experience! During Lent, we read through Genesis, Isaiah, and Proverbs. We have the list of daily readings available in Church, or it is also available on line.
- Read some more! It is a very good and saving practice to read holy books that encourage our spiritual lives. I am just finishing one of the wonderful books by St. Theophan the Recluse, and when I am done, especially since it is Lent, I will move on to something else. A few pages a day can change your life! Visit our bookstore.
- Listen! No matter whether keeping Lent is new to you or you have been doing it all your life, if we open ourselves to God, He will speak to us and tell us what we need to hear and know for our lives. Listen to God’s message for these days and Sundays of Lent.
- Think about other people! Be thankful for what you have, for what God has given you, and take time to help those who are struggling. Pray for those around you. Many of you have signed up for our “Partners in Prayer” program for Lent. Remember to pray for that other person whose name you drew!
- Think about the judgment! Lent, especially, is a time for taking stock of ourselves, for repenting of our sins, and for forgiving others, because, as we know, if we cannot forgive, then we will not be forgiven! Remember that repentance is not negative but essentially positive! Repentance means turning away from myself, my confusion, my sin, and turning to THE source of life and love, God.
- Embrace love! Lent can be joyful for us because Lent is about taking time to turn to God and love Him and love others. Lent is about making love a priority. Lent is also about sacrifice, and part of the message of the Gospel is that without sacrifice, nothing good happens.
I wish you and all of us a joyful Lent! And, please forgive me, the sinner!
Fr. Timothy Robinson