Fifty years ago the great Russian Orthodox priest and theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote a marvelous book titled Great Lent: Journey to Pascha. Father Schmemann details how the Eastern Orthodox liturgy during Lent helps and enables this journey, this passage, this transition from one spiritual state into another.
As Anglicans, we of course don’t have the same liturgy. Nevertheless, our Church does provide for a very similar journey and experience.
For example, our Church with the Season of Pre-Lent asks us to start preparing for the season of Lent. We aren’t just plopped down into Lent starting on Ash Wednesday, but rather are given two and a half weeks to begin preparing for Lent. The Epistle for Septuagesima really sets the standard and gives us the watchword for the upcoming Lenten season. It does so through St. Paul’s marvelous image of the Christian athlete, the runner running the race who must prepare himself to win the race.
On Ash Wednesday, the Gospel reading shows us the true meaning and purpose of fasting and abstinence. According to Jesus, it is to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven.
And today, the first Sunday in Lent, in the Epistle, we are told to beware of receiving the grace of God in vain: “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Another translation of this is “as his fellow-workers, we urge you not to let your acceptance of his grace come to nothing” (NJB) Or, yet another translation: “As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it” (NLT).
It is clear that we can receive the gift of salvation, the gift of God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ, and do nothing with it. That would make it “vain” and “empty” (another translation of the Greek used here). St. Paul reminds us, first quoting from the prophet Isaiah, that “now is the accepted time” and “now is the day of salvation.” Procrastination is not an option.
Lent is the time to do something with the grace we have been given. The Parable of the Talents is a warning from Jesus against doing nothing with what we’ve been given. We must not bury the grace he has given us in the ground.
And so, let us redouble our efforts to make this a good and holy Lent. For the forty days of Lent is in fact a journey to Easter, a time when we once again renew the new life we have been given in Jesus Christ our Lord.