Our annual Lenten journey begins this week on Ash Wednesday.
Yes, this Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the last liturgical hoorah before the Lenten fast and the day we use up all the medieval luxuries of eggs, flour, milk, sugar and meat in our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper.
The Shrove Tuesday supper will begin with great feasting and color, pancakes and sausage with lots of gooey syrup, and then move into the burial of the Alleluias by the rector and the children.
The evening will end in darkness on the parish hall patio with the Burning of the Palms, our blessed palm fronds and palm crosses saved from last Palm Sunday, which will become the ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
In contrast to Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday is intentionally bleak and stark but beautiful in its symbolism and simplicity.
One of the central themes of the Ash Wednesday liturgy is outlined in the words of Psalm 51, which will be said at 7 a.m. and noon and sung by the Motet Choir at 6:30 p.m., using the wailing setting by the Renaissance composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652).
Affectionally known in my circles as “the Allegri,” I have been asked in previous years, “Are you singing that piece again?” With its successive high Cs sung by the solo soprano, that piece is one that people remember for sure.
Then on Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, we will begin the services with The Great Litany, the oldest extant example of original English liturgy we have in the Book of Common Prayer. Its significance is that we pray specifically for just about everything and everyone in the world we can name, from all those in authority to children, widows and orphans.
On the following Sundays in Lent, we will begin the liturgies with A Penitential Order, which moves the Confession of Sin to the beginning of the service, helping us remember our penitence and mortality.
Lest we feel that the season of Lent is doom and gloom, I continually remind myself that your Easter is only as good as your Lent, in the same way that your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are only as good as your Advent observance is.
Growing up Methodist, I remember Lent as a child, but I did not experience a true Holy Week until I joined the Methodist church that I served in college.
My first experience of the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday was in this parish church, in a service held in the chapel, which was actually the original church or the “old church.” Everything was stripped bare in the chancel, and we departed in silence.
Good Friday services were held in the new main church at noon and in the evening. On Easter morning, when I arrived at the church, the main church was completely decked out with lilies covering the altar and white paraments on the pulpit, lectern and altar.
But then it struck me: I wonder how or if they decorated the chapel? Something drew me there. I had to see.
When I walked to the other side of the building and rounded the corner, the chapel was resplendent with Easter lilies and white hangings as well, even though no service was held in that space on Easter Day.
Easter had come even to the liturgical space we had left stark and bleak three evenings before.
Your Easter will be only as good as your Ash Wednesday, Lenten season and Holy Week are.
So, come to church this week with penitent but expectant hearts.