Sometimes I wish I came from a more liturgical tradition. The kind that allows the church calendar to dictate the rhythms of life and set the tone for worship. Our church usually does a pretty good job of at least changing the fabric draped over the cross in the baptistry, but for some reason, Ash Wednesday came and went without a change in color. Our cross still sports the bright red and gold colors of Christmas. We'll celebrate Easter on Sunday, and I know for a fact that the cross will be arrayed in shimmering white, but I have really missed the purple cloth of Lent this year.
I grew up in traditional Southern Baptist churches, and I never knew that there were entire seasons built around Christmas and Easter. I didn't know what Advent was until my grandmother died and we began celebrating Christmas at my aunt and uncle's house. They, being good Episcopalians, place an Advent wreath in the middle of their dining table and light the candles throughout the season. The wreath fascinated me, and from that moment on, I was intrigued by this other world of rich traditions that I knew nothing about. As a teenager, most of my friends were Catholic, and their observance (or lack thereof) of Lent always grabbed my attention. We Baptists didn't give up anything for Lent, and I really didn't see how abstaining from chocolate or Coke would have any affect on God at all.
Things have changed a bit since then, and I've come to appreciate and long for liturgical traditions. The first year we were married, I dragged my husband to an Ash Wednesday service at the local Episcopal church. The whole thing really weirded him out, but I loved it. I felt connected to something larger than myself, and that year, I gave up blogging and social networking for Lent. We light Advent candles at Christmas and read selected passages of Scripture together to help us remember and meditate on the season.
But it's a lot of work to do it on our own. Sometimes I'm so caught up in myself that I forget to consider the season. I'm ashamed to admit that Easter has taken me by surprise this year. I don't feel prepared for Sunday morning. I need the church to remind me of the season. I need the purple cloth of Lent to turn my eyes toward the road to Jerusalem, and I need waving palm branches to center me at the onset of Holy Week. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, and although we won't observe it in our church, I know that I need to feel the horror of Jesus' arrest and the trauma of his death on that Friday we call Good. If I don't stop to feel the betrayal and grieve the death, I won't understand or appreciate the resurrection life we commemorate on Easter Sunday.
It's only through the death of Jesus that we can experience the resurrection. His death was real, tragic, and painful. I need to dwell on those things before I can celebrate and appreciate Easter Sunday because, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:4-6).