My first year in Dallas brought so many new experiences. As I considered Lent and Easter, one memory popped into my head: Ashes To Go. Many of you may know that I take ashes from our church altar out into Preston Center on Ash Wednesday to meet people on the street. Dressed in my flowing robes with my own cross of ash on my forehead, the experience of walking into Preston Center is always a grab-bag. Some people are so excited to see me and come right up to receive ashes. Others make faces as I approach, as if they’d cross to the other side of the street if they could.
The gift of ashes is profound. In our faithfulness, we receive a mark of ash to remind us of our mortality, but the reminder is not meant to be sorrowful. Quite the opposite, the mark of ash is meant to help us see the hope given to us through Christ that death is not the end of life, only a point of change. Lent, in fact, is never meant to be experienced on its own, but hand in hand with Easter.
Lent and Easter have always been seasons that complement one another. The Forty Days of Lent provide us time to consider our fundamental human need and setup the celebration of the Fifty Days of Easter. Each is made more profound with the other, so this year at Saint Michael, we are linking them explicitly.
First, Lent. Ash Wednesday is always the first step in our Lenten journey, reminding us of our fragility and our need to repent. The first half of our Lenten experience—our fragility—is easy to understand because none of us make it out of this life alive. Death is part of life. Thankfully we believe the truth of Jesus’s promise that death is not the end of life, but only a point of transition to life beyond what we can see. The other part—repentance—has always been a bit harder to grasp.
The literal meaning of repent is “to turn,” which is why our Lenten theme this year is You-Turn. Christians throughout the centuries have prepared to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by spending time turning away from the world and toward God, and we have the chance to do that good work once again. The idea of turning toward God is a good one, but to take action is much harder. We are people of habit, and studies show that habits are hard to break. In fact, most research shows that habits aren’t even broken, so much as they are replaced. In other words, it’s much easier to stop doing something when we begin doing something else. Therein lies the opportunity of Lent.
We’re all familiar with the idea of a Lenten discipline. Over the years, Lenten disciplines have been shaped and reshaped, but the premise still rests on the idea of either letting go of something we shouldn’t hold on to or picking up something we should. I suggest we approach this Lent with both. Consider the ways in which you live your life, the habits you have that define you, and shape you, and then decide which one of those habits are adding distance between you and God. Decide which habit is holding you back from becoming the person God intended you to be.
Once you know which habit you’d like to change, begin to consider a habit you’d like to have. There are so many good habits that can draw us closer to God. Simple, classic habits like coming to church every week, or serving in the community once a month, or saying prayers each day, are ones that can replace the habits we wish to stop. This year, rather than giving up eating chocolate or drinking caffeine, dig a little deeper into who you are and who you want to be. Allow the season of Lent to help mold and transform you in a spiritual way that might just stick.
Lent concludes with the beauty of Holy Week. If you’ve never experienced our Holy Week services, I encourage you to schedule them now and join us (seriously, get your calendar out and mark the services down right now.) Following the pageantry of Palm Sunday, Saint Michael enters into the most sacred of all weeks when we tell the story of Jesus’s final days on earth. There are many special services that guide us into deep spiritual connection with Christ’s passion, and I hope you’ll plan to participate with us this year in a deeper way. The week begins with Eucharist services on Monday and Tuesday, then continues with unique services that are only offered once a year: Choral Tenebrae on Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday. Each step of the Holy Week journey calls us deeper into the beauty of holiness and will fill you in surprising ways.
Finally, after walking the way of Lent together, we reach the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Lent will allow us to consider how we can turn toward God with more intention, so that in Easter we can use our gifts to spread Big Love to everyone we meet. Big Love is our Easter theme this year because big love is what Saint Michael should always be about. Countless people in our Saint Michael family live lives of big love, and this year’s theme was inspired by one we love but see no longer, Amanda Neuhoff. One of her favorite things to say, “big love” is a challenge to all of us to live our love out loud as often as possible.
The Easter story may be told through empty tombs and miraculous appearances, but the true message of Easter is that through Jesus, God has transformed the reality of our world and we are called to be part of that continued transformation. There is no question that the DNA of Saint Michael is to be generous, and in the beauty of Easter, we will be asked to deepen the impact of our generosity.
Easter is a chance to live our faith with intentionality, using our gifts to help spread Christ’s love and build God’s kingdom. As I’ve said many times, the call God puts on our lives is to use our gifts with purpose. Committing to the time is takes to be together in worship, study, and fellowship can feel daunting with our busy lives, but is time so very well spent. Understanding our talents and offering them as a volunteer in our church and in our city is a great gift that strengthens our spiritual lives and the lives of those around us. And giving financially to the work of our community helps our ministry grow and touch lives beyond anything we can hope for or imagine. This is the legacy we want Saint Michael to stand for.
This year, we will celebrate Lent and Easter in all its glory. I hope you will jump in with us, sharing the beautiful experiences along the way. With each step, we grow deeper in our faith and in our love for one another. Indeed, our hope rests in God alone, and His love carries us onward!
The true message of Easter is that through Jesus, God has transformed the reality of our world and we are called to be part of that continued transformation.
**This article was written by the Rev. Dr. Christopher D. Girata and was featured in the 2023 Spring Archangel.