more thoughts on liturgy, story, and the practice of lent

Amidst my busyness (hence the lack of blogging!), lent continues to be on my mind. I keep coming back to how the church's use (or lack) of the liturgical calender impacts our faith and our understanding of God's work in the world.

At a conference this past weekend, speaker Tom Sine - of Mustard Seed Associates - commented that following the liturgical calender in both our personal and corporate spirituality allows us to participate in the whole story of God, investigating and experiencing how we are transformed by the narrative of God in the Bible, and in turn, our world. He shared how his personal experience of lent has been incredibly difficult. In his struggle, he stated plainly, "I'm ready for Easter." The story of Jesus, you see, isn't simply an idea Tom reflects on or "believes" as we so often say. The story of Jesus, in fact, shapes how Tom has experienced life, which in the case of lent, has left him exhausted and yearning for the hope the Easter brings. So often, sadly, we are more shaped by the calender of society - call it our "cultural liturgy" (hockey playoffs!?!) - than the biblical narrative the church calender guides us through. And I'll be honest. I don't know if I've ever felt an anticipation for Easter in the way Tom expressed. Have I ever immersed myself in the story of Jesus to the point of my life mirroring the emotions and experiences of the biblical narrative? Nope.

But then again, I'm not part of a liturgical tradition and have even experienced "anti-liturgical" sentiment personally and in church. I guess I/we have some learning to do...

In the case of lent, then, I'm challenged to consider how I experience a deep anticipation and longing for the redemption of our broken world, just as the people of Israel, the followers of Jesus, and the early church longed for in their day. In lent, do I allow myself to lament, to experience the "not yet" reality of our world in order to get the proper perspective for the hope we celebrate at Easter? What's hope without an experience of its absence? So I close with a portion of Psalm 77 that challenges us to live out the longing of lent:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.

You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

"Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

(Psalm 77:1-9 TNIV)

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