Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Fourth Sunday In Lent

A few years ago, I tore down an old shed on our property down on Long Island Sound. It seemed to be mostly made of rotten wood, so I didn’t think it would take too long or be too arduous. Besides, there’s nothing like wielding a crowbar and 20 pound sledgehammer on one’s day off.  I also was able to swing a Halligan, which usually just resides in the trunk of the car, a leftover from service with a volunteer fire department.

It turned out I was a little optimistic, as the shed was much sturdier than I thought. What should have been a morning’s work turned into a full day. Somewhere near sundown I managed to get the last joist undone, and also managed to drop a roof beam on my head. Jenni mentioned that this was the third head wound that I had received that year, as both the boom on our sailboat and some teenager’s runaway surfboard had also given me some dents. As I noted how my head was gradually becoming a relief map of my misadventures, Jenni volunteered, “I think you’ve lived your Lent for this year.”

One of the many lost traditions in Christianity is to be found on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Much like its parallel Sunday on the Third of Advent, this is a feast day that serves as a type of “gasket” during the season of intention and, in ancient times certainly, had developed around it a variety of particular practices.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent [again, it is a Sunday in Lent rather than of Lent, as all of the Sundays are feast days celebrated outside of the dour intentions of Lent], is variously known as Rose Sunday [as is its Advent counterpart], Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday or, the most unusual of all, Mothering Sunday. The latter title did not refer to one’s mother, but to one’s ‘mother church”, as it was the tradition to return to one’s home congregation, and distant family, on this particular Sunday.

Other traditions that developed around the Fourth Sunday in Lent involved clergy wearing rose-colored vestments, the use of flowers on the altar, and the baking of special cakes or loaves of bread, as the traditional Gospel reading for this day was the feeding of the five thousand. In our English-based tradition, it was the only day during Lent when the sacrament of marriage could be offered.

All of this was done to remind worshippers that prayerful intention and amendment of life are not to be left to one particular season, anymore than the celebration of the Resurrection is to be left only to Easter. We live our Lent many times during the year and, we hope, live the Resurrection even more often. In our pattern of faith, while we find moments of Lent and moments of Easter, each extreme is experienced as part of a journey that is always a dynamic blending of the two, so it is the totality that matters, rather than the fragments.  That way, the rich and various experiences of our lives, from the daunting to the fulfilling, always form parts and portions of the whole, as do all of the seasons of the Christian year in their glory.