Beginning Lent with Thanksgiving

Part of me feels like next Wednesday will mark the 366th day of Lent. There is something about the past year that feels as though Lent has never really ended. Despite my best attempts at hallelujahs and Easter declarations, Pentecost celebrations, and even Advent and Christmas decorations, there is something about the weight of the days and weeks that have felt more like an extended Lenten season than anything else.

I have always appreciated the season of Lent. I like the idea of putting things aside, of refocusing, and reconsidering. As an introvert, I’m always excited at the prospect of a little introspection, but 366 days is a long time to be in the wilderness. Getting ready for Lent this year has been hard because I wasn’t sure what would change when we mark one another with ashen crosses and journey toward Jerusalem and ultimately the promise of Easter.

As Edward Landin Senn, our assistant director of music, and I worked with some children of our church to write and prepare the Family Ash Wednesday Service, I was wondering what they would think about Lent. I wondered what insights they would offer after almost a year in quarantine. We were working on the Call to Worship. I asked our students what we need to do to get ready for worship and for Lent. The expected answers were there, but then I heard something that surprised me. “We need to be thankful.”

“Thankful?” I asked. “Thankful” had not crossed my mind.

The two students on the call nodded in agreement. “We should be thankful… every year we get another chance. God gives another chance to try again.”

The conversation was enthusiastic. “We don’t always get everything right, but Ash Wednesday means God wants us to try again. God will help us try again. We should be thankful because God is with us even if we don’t get it right.”

We added “thankful” to our list and began the work of writing the liturgy. That word has stayed with me since this conversation with the students. What does it mean to begin this Lent thankful that we have the opportunity to begin again? Thankful that God trusts us enough to attempt repentance and reconciliation, even though we’ve never quite perfected it. Thankful that God has never demanded perfection from us. Thankful that even 366 days into this journey, Jesus is walking alongside us, pointing ahead. I don’t know if Easter will break this long Lent, or if the journey is going to take longer than our 40 allotted days, but I am learning to be thankful. Thankful for voices who remind me that each year we have the opportunity to begin anew.

From the Ash Wednesday Family Service Prayer of Confession: 

Have mercy on me, O God,

You create us in your image and place your spirit within us, but sometimes we forget who we are and are distracted by what others say. Forgive us and teach us that we are your children. Have mercy on me O God, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.