I didn’t grow up in a church that followed the church calendar.
To me, when I heard the words Advent I thought of the countdown calendars with chocolate that seemed to have its own brand of taste — the Advent Calendar Chocolate Taste.
Then there was something about Ash Wednesday when kids would leave school and come back with a smudge on their forehead.
The word Lent just conjured up thoughts of a time where people would try to give up a habit that would ultimately make them cranky the entire 40 days until Easter when they could once again indulge themselves (see aforementioned chocolate).
I remember not liking the concept of Lent because it felt like people around me were waiting in anticipation to once again drink coffee or have ice cream as opposed to the risen Christ himself. I’m embarrassed to admit that I, at times, had an attitude of ironic and shameful superiority when looking at the people around me who observed these moments of the church calendar. I thought it was legalistic tradition for the sake of tradition.
This all changed when I went to a college that had deep roots in liturgical tradition. It was there that I was invited to see what wonder could be found in observing these spaces of time. In a season of waiting for what felt like forever, a season of seemingly never-ending longing, the season of Advent became a season of grace for me. Before all of the merriment and glitter of Christmas, there is not just space, but intentional and welcomed time to name that things are not as they should be. To claim that we are waiting for our promised Christ-child. And waiting is hard.
The hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that felt strangely dark and dreary for the Christmas season, suddenly felt like prayers from my very soul. Yes there is anticipation, yes there is joy, but there is also longing in that anticipation. There is longing for that joy. Rushing to the joy past the longing does no one any good.
When some of my friends suddenly died in an accident, the season of Lent made way more sense to me. Like Advent, there was space carved into the year to name that things are not as they should be. Where, along with the Church all through history, we are invited to wait and watch for the promises we have been given to be fulfilled in the middle of what feels like aimless wandering. Our brothers and sisters across time who are not strangers to loss and suffering know what it means to ache for the news of the empty tomb, and Lent invites us to find our place among them and keep watch alongside them.
I think there is a temptation and even tendency to skip past just how much waiting, watching, and wandering there is across the narrative of scripture. All we have to do is flip the page from Malachi to Matthew to see where promises pick up. We forget the nearly 400 years of silence that was endured during that time. All throughout scripture we see our patriarchs and matriarchs waiting, watching, and wandering.
Advent and Lent invite us to posture ourselves alongside them doing the same. In some sense, we should feel at home in this discomfort. It invites us to not pretend we aren’t weary or suffering while we live in the tension of our certain history and promised future. These seasons aren’t about subpar chocolate countdowns or breaking a habit which they are often reduced to. These seasons are invitations to participate in faithful waiting and watching while we are in the midst of our wandering.
As we begin to move closer to the Lenten season, perhaps this is an invitation to think deeply about what exactly it will mean for us to find the tomb empty.
That we will not find the living among the dead.
That our King is alive.
That our exile will end.
That Emmanuel will ransom captive Israel.
And yet we are still waiting for this to be fully realized.
We are still watching for Christ to return in glory to put all creation to rights.
And in the waiting and watching, Christ goes before us.
And in our wandering, we do not wander alone, but along with the communion of saints who has gone before us. Let us find our place among them.
Let it be so.
Written by Lindsey Bandy Blodgett