Lent is often a time of paradox. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words of Jesus Christ calling us not to be like hypocrites who “disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting” then we mark our foreheads with ash. We hear Christ’s words not to use lots of words in prayer, then we recite a long litany! We’re invited to live a more simple life, and give things up, then churches organise all manner of things for Lent …
To bow the head
in sackcloth and in ashes,
or rend the soul,
such grief is not our goal;
but to be led
to where God’s glory flashes,
his beauty to come nigh,
Until the 16th century in England the word ‘Spring’ was not used. The word used was Lent. Lent meant spring not only in the spiritual world, but also in the natural world too. Signs of new growth were signs for Lent, spiritual and natural, as indeed they still are:
“Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,”
So wrote that great doyen of traditional Anglican liturgy, Percy Dearmer.
We sang his now seldom sung hymn, White Lent, from which this comes at St Chrysostom’s on the First Sunday of Lent. The hymn begins Now quit your care.
The hymn’s words challenge us to consider our priorities and how we keep Lent and remind us of the call to justice and social action – encouraged by the readings from the prophet Isaiah (58) at Mass on Ash Wednesday.
And peace will show their faces
To those who feed
The hungry in their need,
And wrongs redress
I’m not suggesting Percy’s hymn is a ‘priority hymn’ in danger of being lost. (See a list of such hymns earlier on the blog, here). I am suggesting its sentiment and challenge are worthy of a significant place in keeping Lent today!
(With grateful thanks to @ClerkofOxford for her blog on which this heavily draws).