Always Lent and Never Easter

As pastors and worship leaders, we do our best to live into the gospel that we proclaim from week to week. It’s a gospel big enough to contain both our laments, our cries, our hopes, and our joys. It’s a gospel that recognizes and acknowledges the brokenness of our world and still finds a way to offer the hope of Easter morning.

After serving the same two congregations for almost fourteen years, there are very few moments anymore where walking into the familiar sanctuary will take my breath away: the first time we did a flowering cross on Easter morning, that time the roof was actively leaking/pouring, when walking in and seeing the body of a beloved member in a casket.

A Lent Frozen in Time

I walked into the Silver Spring CRC sanctuary last week and had to sit down and have a moment to re-steady my breathing and to reflect and absorb yet another big 2020 kind of feeling. Instead of being full of people, voices singing, and children chattering, the chairs were stacked with huge boxes and grocery bags full of food. This church’s food pantry, which was serving on average 75–80 households once a month before the COVID-19 pandemic, now prepares each week to feed 800-plus households every Tuesday. If you can imagine what it looks like to feed that many people—not just with a box of cereal but with produce, dry goods, and canned goods—you will get a glimpse of what this space looked like. The boxes took my breath away. But as my eyes traveled forward to the front of the sanctuary, the gut punch delivered its blow. There were the purple banners with burlap. There was the cross, draped in purple, looking even darker and more solemn in the quiet light of evening. It was Lent. Time stood still in that space and it was still Lent.

In many ways, doesn’t it still feel like Lent? When everything shut down: churches, schools, stores, the whole world. Everything seemed to freeze. And even with the slow thaw taking place each day, doesn’t it still feel like we are stuck in the season of “always winter and never Christmas” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe),  or in this case, “always Lent and never Easter”? Yes, we had Easter (probaby on Zoom or YouTube). I think I even remember having a Pentecost (probably on Zoom or YouTube). We settled into Ordinary Time and the doldrums of summer (probably on Zoom or YouTube). And now as the rush of fall ministry is upon us (probably on Zoom or YouTube), there is still very much a feeling of being frozen in Lent. Your ministry teams and councils have scrambled to come up with a plan for education, for children’s ministries, for Bible studies, for how we continue in-person worship when the cold weather makes outdoor worship impossible. Where is Easter? Will Lent end with a vaccine? Will Lent end when the violent racism in our country is acknowledged and addressed? Will Lent end when humanity can no longer hide behind a computer screen and people are forced to reconcile, to learn to love again, and to move forward in the direction of rebuilding, relearning, restoring?

Easter Is the Gospel Story

Do you want to hear something shocking? There are only 20 weeks until Lent. We are closer to Lent 2021 than we are to Lent 2020. That’s how many weeks have passed since we placed ashes on foreheads and spoke the words “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Never in our wildest dreams did any of us imagine how poignant those words would prove to be in the year to come. We were reminded of our own mortality—and then faced with a global pandemic that has taken the lives of almost 900,000 people around the world. We were anointed with oil in the shape of the cross and called to repentance and renewal—and then tested and tried with fires of many kinds.

How do we as pastors and worship leaders stay faithful during this prolonged season of Lent? We do our best to live into the gospel that we proclaim from week to week, which is a gospel big enough to contain both our laments, our cries, our hopes, and our joys. It’s not a gospel that placates us with promises of ease or comfort but one that readies and sturdies us for whatever season might lie ahead. It’s a gospel that recognizes and acknowledges the brokenness of our world, the pain and the toll this pandemic has taken on all of us, and still finds a way to offer the hope of Easter morning. It’s there, even when we have to strain our Zoom-wearied eyes to see it. It’s there, even when reopening plans have become deep and painful pastoral care needs and you wonder if there is anything left in your tank to give. It’s there . . . even in an election year. It’s there. Tell yourself that every single day if you must. Sing an Easter hymn, even if you sing it in the void of an empty sanctuary through gritted teeth. You don’t always have to feel it as truth, but you need to know it as fact. Say it. Sing it. Preach it. Repeat it. Easter is coming. Alleluia, Amen.

Digging Deeper