I have a number of friends and acquaintances who give something up for the season of Lent. Unfortunately, this is often not a religious exercise. Too many people use Lent as a diet plan or a jump start to get rid of a bad habit. At least they are recognizing the season and have a vague idea of its meaning.
I grew up in a non-liturgical Baptist tradition that did not recognize the season at all. Generally, there were two dates on our liturgical calendar, Christmas and Easter. As such, I never saw the value of the liturgical seasons. My general thought was, “Why should the date change the quality of my devotion to God in Jesus? I should be fully devoted to Jesus everyday.” These two coordinated thoughts are not necessarily incorrect. We should strive to be fully devoted to Jesus at all times. My incorrect assumption was that the liturgical calendar is asking you to intensify your devotion in certain times in the year.
This incorrect assumption probably came as a response to those friends and acquaintances mentioned earlier. Many of them were not particularly religious during most of the year. But they start adopting a semi-religious attitude because a certain Wednesday has come up on the calendar. But I do not now believe that Lent was ever meant as a time to intensify our devotion over and against other seasons.
I’ve transitioned to liturgical Baptist church over the past year. Marking time with a religious calendar has exposed how faulty my previous assumptions were about liturgical practices. The different seasons give us an opportunity to concentrate on different aspects of our devotion. It is not an invitation for a different intensity. We should always be seeking to intensify our devotion. It is an invitation to a diversity in devotion.
The different seasons and days give us opportunities to consider different aspects of our walk with Jesus. The season of Advent celebrates Jesus’s coming into the world. Epiphany Sunday allows us to celebrate the revelation of Jesus. We could also use that Sunday to contemplate the gifts that Jesus has given to us and the gifts that we can give to our neighbor. Trinity Sunday is an explicit opportunity to consider that timeless Christian mystery. The season of Pentecost is a time to reflect on the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the Church. These reflections only scratch the surface. Finally, Lent is a season to consider our sin and Jesus’s response to it. It rises to a climax in Holy Week, a time to consider how Jesus gave himself completely for us and celebrate the glory of the resurrection.
Could a church engage in this diversity of Christian reflection without following a liturgical calendar? Of course it’s possible, but why reinvent the wheel? Can liturgy become dry and empty ritual? That’s certainly possible, but it is not inevitable. The promise of the liturgical calendar is the diversity of reflection that it inclines us toward. I certainly do not consider following a liturgy as a requirement of a good church. However, sitting through a liturgical year has made me appreciate it. As we begin Lent, my thoughts have been particularly focused on Jesus conquering the powers of sin and death through a sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. That focus has been brought on by an awareness of what season we are in. These different seasons are a ready-made framework to promote a full-orbed Christian experience.