Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Season of Lent

Some of my readers are also from pastors' families.  I know these people will understand this post.  There are other readers who may not understand.  I'm OK with that, too.  This is mostly just my own little confession.

Since I've been a pastor's wife, I HATE LENT.

I never used to hate Lent.  I used to really, really like Lent.  I love the hymns.  They are so dark and sad sounding.  The mere sound of the music helps me to ponder Jesus' suffering.
O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken 
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken? 
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession— 
What dark transgression?  

They crown Thy head with thorns, they smite, they scourge Thee; 
With cruel mockings to the cross they urge Thee; 
They give Thee gall to drink, they still decry Thee; 
They crucify Thee. 

Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish? 
It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish; 
Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit, 
This I do merit. 

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! 
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander; 
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, 
Who would not know Him. 

The sinless Son of God must die in sadness; 
The sinful child of man may live in gladness; 
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted— 
God is committed.
The lyrics of the Lenten hymns are especially rich.  The meditative value is immense.  I am able to focus more vividly on my sin and Jesus Passion.
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.
I love the passion readings.  I love to be reminded each year of what my Savior suffered for ME. I am heartened when hearing that even the disciples fell, and yet our Savior loved them.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. That disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then that other disciple who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.

And the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself, so that he could see the end. Then the servant girl who kept the door, seeing Peter in the light as he warmed himself, looked intently at him and said: And you were also with Jesus of Galilee! You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you? He denied before all and said: Woman, I am not; I do not know Him; I do not know what you are saying.
And I love the extra opportunity each week to get together with friends and loved ones for whom this season is also special.

Once I had kids, Lent became more difficult, just as church attendance in general was more difficult.  But we forged on and hopefully were able to give our older children a few years of Lenten seasons rich in meaning and relatively angst free.

But now I am a pastor's wife.  I pretty much lose my spouse during Lent and the kids lose their dad.  I have been know to say that were it within my tradition to give something up for Lent, I would not have to choose anything.  I already do.

I also have youth group aged kids now.  So that means that every other week, I cook extra on Wednesday to provide for the soup and sandwich suppers our youth group does as a fund raiser.  This extra work allows my kids to attend the many opportunities for fun and fellowship with like-minded young people throughout the year. But it's extra work during an already busy time.

And I have an extra church service to sit through each week with little ones, with no second set of arms to help out.

Even in our present situation with all the frustrations of the season and the difficulties in attending church, there are so many special things in Lent to enjoy.  I hope my bad attitude does not ruin those things for my kids.

Besides the above mentioned special things about Lent, I really like the way my husband does Lenten services.  We use the order of Compline from the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.  That service contains one of my favorite church service prayers, which is especially fitting during Lent.
Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.
Each week (except for on Ash Wednesday and Maunday Thursday when we have Holy Communion) we have Individual Absolution.  For those readers not familiar with this practice from the Norwegian Lutheran tradition, after a general recitation of confession, the pastor reads an explanatory paragraph that includes an exhortation to make use of confession and absolution and the Scriptures that give the pastor the power to forgive sins; then the congregation files forward, as if for communion but with even the youngest coming forward; the pastor lays his hands upon the head of each person and forgives the sins of each in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Another special thing at our churches during Lent is that Joe does a Bible study afterwards.  Because he serves four churches, this is impossible to do on Sunday mornings.  Because of everyone's busy schedules, the various times that he's tried for midweek studies have not worked out well.  But during Lent, when he has one service a night for three nights of the week, he can offer Bible study right after church.  The service of Compline is shorter than than a Sunday Service, so a good number of people stay for the Bible study.  This allows extra time together in God's Word, and as a bonus we come to know each other more deeply than the regular Sunday pleasantries allow.

But again, Bible study is pretty difficult with a passel little ones who are getting tired and ready for bed, and are ornery and strung out from all the excitement.

I must confess I've gotten lax throughout the years.  I used to make my kids sit with me at every service.  Then I let them sit with others during Lent, because I was just too tired for the battle twice a week.  Then I gradually let them wear pants for midweek services.  Mostly because I can't keep up at home with the extra church clothes lying about and never getting picked up and searching for shoes, etc.  And (big chagrined cringe here) this year for the midweek services, I've even let my oldest kids wear their jeans from school to church.  I can't believe how far I've fallen.

But those things are really not the problem.  God does not care how we dress or where we sit.  He's glad to serve us with His Word and Sacraments regardless of our attire or seating position.  That Word and Sacrament is what church is all about.  It's the Holy Service, God serving us with His Life-giving means of grace.

The real problem for me during this season is bitterness.  I struggle with it daily.  I yell at my kids too much.  I flounder in my household responsibilities.  I feel angry.  I feel run down.  I feel lonely.

This year I made a commitment, verbally, to my kids to try to be less angry.  I hope I am doing better than other years in at least this regard.  I know I'm not doing well with the rest of my struggles.

But in this too, I can turn to the cross of Christ, that beautiful, horrible cross.
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
I look to the cross and lay at the feet of my Lord all my bitterness and anger and frustration.  I cling to His promises of forgiveness and healing.
By grace I'm saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Hath Scripture ever falsehood taught?
Nay; then this word must true remain;
By grace thou, too, shalt heav'n obtain.

By grace! On this I'll rest when dying;
In Jesus' promise I rejoice;
For though I know my heart's condition,
I also know my Savior's voice.
My heart is glad, all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.

By grace! Sin, death, and Satan hearken!
I bear my flag of faith in hand
And pass--for doubts my joy can't darken--
The Red Sea to the Promised Land.
I cling to what my Savior taught
And trust it, whether felt or not.