Baptist churches aren’t known for following the Christian calendar. Perhaps this is due to a fear of being considered too ecumenical or Catholic. At least this is what I’m hearing from our Wednesday night Bible study group. On Ash Wednesday, we started a series on the Lenton season using material provided through The Baptist World Alliance. It’s called “Eyeing Easter” and provides several weeks on themes leading up to Resurrection Sunday. This is a first for me and I got the feeling it was for our group as well. In fact, when I asked them about Lent, most had heard of it but none had ever experienced it in a Baptist church.
It seems like it’s becoming more acceptable for Baptist churches to observe the Advent Season–the Sundays after Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas. Changing Christmas from a “day” to a “season” heightens the expection of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Having an observance of Lent should do the same thing, and my hope is that Wednesdays will offer a time for dialogue and spiritual renewal. We’ve added a cross (a large wooden one) that will be positioned on the platform in the sanctuary that will have a purple cloth draped across the horizontal beam. On Maundy Thursday the cloth will be changed to black, in conjuntion to a worship service we’re having for the first time on that day. Of course, the cloth will go to white on Easter Sunday. The colors have their symbolism and should add to the meaning of the worship experience.
The Lenton season is a 40 day period leading up to Easter that emerged during the Early Church (4th century). New believers used this time for renewal and preparation prior to their baptism on Easter Sunday. The significance of these weeks expanded to include other members of the church as they were encouraged to reflect upon their humanity, sinfulness, and need for repentance and cleansing. Sometimes Christians “give something up for Lent” to help them focus on the truly important things in life. One criticism I’ve often heard relates to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). After doing just about anything and everything behavior wise leading up to this day, revellers file into churches to have ashes placed on their foreheads as a reminder “from ashes you came, and from ashes you shall return.” The implication is that many people aren’t sincere about repentance and want to get in as much sin as possible before Ash Wednesday. I heard this a lot when I lived in New Orleans, and questioned the sincerity of those folks filing into St. Louis Cathedral after they’d be out the night before on Bourbon Street (I couldn’t prove that, but the timing of it seemed suspicious to me).
Regardless, there is great value in expanding the celebration of Easter from only one day to a season. Just because some folks don’t seem to “get it” doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. Besides, we ought not be judging others anyway. We all have sinned and need forgiveness. Maybe that’s what the Lenton season is about. It makes sense to start focusing on the cross now so that by Easter we have gleaned as much spiritual meaning as possible. Baptists would benefit from thoughtful and meaningful reflection on our sinful condition. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking doesn’t seem to be a strength for us. We would do well to embrace the ecumenical spirit inherit in the Lenton season. We all are sinners. We all need to be reconciled to God. We all need renewal. By observing Lent, Christians could be more in tune to the power of the Resurrection and more grateful for the forgiveness and mercy Christ provides.
I’m excited about taking the Lenton journey with those in our Bible Study, and look forward to incorporating different aspects of it into our worship services on Sundays. I wonder how many other Baptist churches are acknowledging this season and ideas for its observance. I’d appreciate any feedback visitors to this blog might have (unless, of course, you’ve given up blogging for Lent).