Lent in this (southern) hemisphere heralds the autumn. Nature pares down to her essentials. She carries with her the seeds of the future. She concentrates her energies on the one thing necessary that life may be renewed when the globe turns once more towards the sun. Gardeners do their essential tidying and preparation. We plant our bulbs, hoping for new life in the future.

We, the church, also pare down in Lent. Lent focuses on the essentials: the new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus and our participation in this through our faith and baptism. After the busyness of the summer there is a time to learn to pause. We Christians can plant some bulbs together, praying that through our celebration of Lent new life may spring up in our community and throughout the world.

In modern liturgy the penitential flavour is now more concentrated on Ash Wednesday. Creation all around us is beginning to die. Nature seems to echo the ancient words addressed to each person at the imposition of ashes which marks the beginning of Lent: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

These forty days, approximately a tenth of the year, are our tithe of the year. Our personal Lenten disciplines, however, are not just another self-improvement course. They are to prepare us for a party, the party of Easter.

In a growing number of communities Lent is once again what it was in the early church, a special time of preparation for Easter baptisms or for a personal affirmation of one's baptism. As worshippers support these candidates, parents, sponsors, and companions, they are vividly reminded of their own baptism and encouraged to renew their baptismal commitment.

The stark simplicity of Lenten worship can provide a striking contrast with the joyful celebration of Easter. Flowers might be absent from church, organ music restrained. Removing banners and pictures and veiling rich metalwork could enhance the atmosphere (though to obscure the cross in Lent seems to misunderstand the tradition, it may be better that a wooden cross replaces an expensive one). Traditionally, "Glory to God in the highest" is not used in Lent. Texts and hymns are carefully selected to avoid the use of the word "Alleluia" which is not used during Lent but will greet the resurrection on Easter Day.
To grow closer to Christ we need to take time to reflect and pray. The danger of Lent is that it tends to be the church's busiest time as we add extra services and study on top of our full parish programme. In the gospel of the first Sunday of Lent we go with Jesus into his forty days in the desert (Three Year Series). Our times at church and the Lenten programmes can be oases in the desert, encouraging us on to that intimacy with God and a realistic examination of ourselves which the desert promises.
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