By the Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, staff officer for the United Thank Offering
As we were preparing for Lent around the UTO office, I thought a lot about Advent. The two liturgical seasons are partnered in many ways—for most of us the color for the seasons is the same (although I am a fan of dark blue for Advent and purple for Lent), and a sense of preparation also weaves through each period as we await Christmas or Easter.
At our house, we do a great job of keeping Advent—from calendars to candles, we do it all. Lent is a different story. We often start strong and then somewhere along the way fall off the Lenten bandwagon, only to jump back on around Palm Sunday. I often think that if I could buy my kids a chocolate Lenten calendar, we’d do much better with the whole season. The pandemic has really made our inability to stick with our Lenten disciplines as a family more apparent. And I do want to be clear, especially with the ups and downs of the pandemic, being gentle with ourselves is really, really important, so if giving up a Lenten discipline will save your sanity, by all means do so. Lent should not feel like one more thing or a burden of righteousness to carry; neither of those will change your faith for the better. Lent should feel like a way to grow closer and more connected with our faith and with God; anything that keeps us from that connection should be evaluated. Just a reminder, one of the great truths of Holy Week is that things must come to an end in order to be resurrected. New life is the result of change.
This year, our Lenten materials reflect my desire to do better at Lent. You’ll see this desire to deepen our faith connections and be gentle with ourselves reflected in our Lenten materials. For adults, we created a really great journal. You can print it out or use it online—Isabelle created a very cool flip-booklet that makes reading it digitally much easier. The focus is on paying attention to and being thankful for things we might overlook in our daily lives.
One thing that often gets overlooked in Lent is that the 40 days does not include Sundays. Sundays are always feast days, and this year, we want to encourage everyone (even if you don’t use our materials) to treat Sundays as such through intentional acts of self-care. For those of you who prefer to use social media, we will also have prompts on Instagram and Facebook to help you create a virtual journal of gratitude using your preferred social media platform.
For the small people, I regret that we couldn’t figure out how to make a chocolate Lenten calendar like the ones so many kids (including mine) enjoy during Advent. I promise I’m going to keep investigating it, but you can pair our Lenten materials for families with a jar of chocolates. Our materials for families are meant to be easily printed at home. You don’t have to get fancy—simply print and cut out strips of paper to form a countdown-to-Easter paper chain. There’s a lesson to discuss Lent with your children as well, but if you can’t find time for that, the paper chain is perfect on its own. Each day, as you rip off a link to mark the passing of time to Easter, together as a family you’ll answer a prompt about gratitude. These slips of paper can be stored in your bunny Blue Box and will be a great reminder on Easter of all the gifts the liturgical season brought your family.
However you mark the passage of time this Lent, I hope you will do it in ways that deepen your faith and appreciation for the work that God is doing in the midst of us. I hope you’ll check in with your family and friends and offer support as we all try to make it to Easter with our Lenten disciplines intact; and I hope you’ll offer a word of love and care if they don’t.
I hope you’ll practice gratitude as a way to ready our hearts for the new thing that God will be doing come Easter, and I trust that you will continue to be a sign of God’s love and light in the world as the season unfolds. Blessings to you, fellow traveler, on your Lenten journey. I leave you with one of my favorite Irish blessings as we head out on this Lenten path (in the month celebrating St. Patrick):
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you:
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.