If we wish one another a Happy Advent,
a Merry Christmas, and a surprising Epiphany,
what greeting do we pass to one another at Lent?
I used to suggest that we say,
“Have a miserable Lent.”
And why not?
The root of the word means “mercy,”
as in “Lord, have mercy on me.”
Much of the music in Lent is in the minor key,
we dust our foreheads with ashes,
we ban “alleluias” until Easter morning,
we murmur about sacrifice,
we whisper of self-examination, rather reluctantly call for repentance,
and today, we even speak of the devil!

No wonder we Protestants seemed content
to let the Catholics have Lent to themselves for so long!
We were glad to just let Easter creep up one spring morning
and sing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”
Not having paid much attention to what he was rising from,
we may have missed the point much of the time,
but we dressed up in our Easter finery anyway and decorated eggs.

Then something happened, liturgically-speaking.
Maybe it was the movement of the Holy Spirit
amid the brokenness of the Church,
a wind that blew so hard that we separated sisters and brothers
had to huddle closer together for our own protection against the cold world
and we recognized that we had more in common than we thought,
and that one of the things we had in common was
our history,
our story.
God’s story, really.
The story of wandering Arameans,
of patriarchs and matriarchs of faith,
of covenants new and everlasting,
of old psalms and new songs,
of prophets and apostles,
of Jesus Christ, teacher and Logos, savior and eternal presence.

And it seemed walking the Lenten path together
gave us time to think about that story.

So eventually,
and I’m making a big leap here,
Presbyterians started taking Lent
as seriously as our more liturgical brothers and sisters,
and we found that, like good medicine,
we may not like the taste of it,
but it does us good.

For one thing, Lent changes our pace; we slow down a bit.
Unlike Advent,
this is not a time to sprint through the busyness of shopping “daze,”
a cluster of social obligations and the general pre-Christmas rush.
No, Lent is quieter, more reflective,
time our lives use for a gentle fine tuning,
that faith might find refreshment.
Lent was once a time for converts to prepare for their baptisms,
to know what deep waters they were about to enter.
Today, the season is more our opportunity to sense the mystery of the faith,
to pause long enough to hear our own hearts beat in God’s rhythm,
to pay closer attention to the path of Jesus heading toward the cross,
and to realign ourselves to the wider community of faith.

Have a grace-filled Lent!