Lent. Growing up, I had no idea what Lent was about. We celebrated Easter and Christmas. I knew that Jesus was born on Christmas and died and was resurrected on Easter. That was about the extent of my theological understanding. Somehow, that deep theological mind has made its way to being a seminarian. Hard to believe, I know. I remember the first time that I really became aware of Lent and Ash Wednesday in particular. I was in my early 20’s and working in a bank in my hometown. I quietly pulled one of my co-workers aside so as not to embarrass him when I pointed out the evidence of the tragic copier toner accident that he’d clearly been a victim of. Fortunately, he was a good sport about it and explained to me the reason for the smudge on his forehead.
My previous, conservative non-denominational, faith context taught me that seasons such as Lent and Advent were meaningless and ritualistic. To them, it mattered that Jesus was born, that he died, and that he rose from the grave, but the ceremonious nature of the liturgical seasons within most mainline denominations were perceived to be empty and merely a matter of empty tradition.
Admittedly, some of those prejudices continued with me as I found myself entering and becoming a part of the United Methodist Church. Over the years, I have consistently found these prejudices challenged. There are times that I miss the energy of the worship services that I experienced in my former faith context, but, at the same time, I appreciate the depth and intellectual challenge of my current faith environment.
I remember the first time I ever took communion in a United Methodist Church. First, communion was not served with any kind of regularity at my former church. The pastor felt that serving communion on a regular basis made it expected and ordinary and took away from the specialness of it. Also, it was never served by intinction. Each person was served their own individual mini cup of juice and a piece of bread. Then we all ate and drank in unison. While I know that not all United Methodist Churches serve communion by intinction, I know that many do, and the two United Methodist Churches that I have attended with any kind of regularity serve it that way. It seemed weird to me at first. I didn’t want to eat bread dipped in juice that who knows who’s fingers have touched. But, then, I did it. Yes, other people may have dipped to far and touched the juice with their fingers, but, regardless of that, the who experience is so connective and unifying that you forget about that. The sense of connection extended beyond the walls of the church I was in as well. Knowing that other churches across the United Methodist connection were engaging in the same act of remembrance reinforced to me that I was, in that moment, a part of something much larger than me. I was also taken aback by the fact that the communion elements had to be blessed and that not just anyone could bless them. At first, I saw this as elitist and exclusionary, but my perspective quickly shifted to seeing it as a far more reverent act, and I was honored the first time I was ever asked to help in serving communion during a service.
Today, I attended my first ever Ash Wednesday service at the seminary where I am a student. It was the first time that ashes had ever been applied to my own forehead. Being in that service among peers, faculty and staff from my school, a place that has very much come to feel like a safe place, a place of belonging to me, I again felt that strong sense of connection and belonging. Today, I downloaded a Lent devotional from the Reconciling Ministries Network. I plan to take in the first reading before I go to sleep tonight. I am so thankful to be apart of this shared experience for the first time as we wait for the coming resurrection.