United, Not Uniform - Ashley Newton

I’ve heard a lot of people say that their favorite season of the church year is Lent, even though this is usually prefaced by a quick disclaimer: “I know it’s odd, but...” Lent is a penitential season and the world teaches us that this isn’t something we’re supposed to enjoy. In fact, when I mentioned Hentzi’s Ash Wednesday homily about not making Lent a season of self-shame to a Catholic friend of mine, he was very much taken aback at how different this was to his own priest’s words that morning. 

Lent is my favorite season too, although not because of the focus on penitential behaviors and liturgy, but because of the sense of unity I feel that it brings to the wider church community. I was traveling out of state earlier this month, and I had to go to a different church on Sunday morning. I was struck by how, even though the surroundings were so very different from Emmanuel (the incense was thick enough to make me grab for a Kleenex), the people and the feeling on that fourth Sunday in Lent were so very similar to home. Sure, the building was different and the altar was different and the words in the service were different, but these were all superficial changes. The spirit of Lent was still present, the people were still taking this season to self-reflect and try to improve their relationship with God and each other. It didn’t matter what church it was or what the sermon was--everyone there was somehow connected to all the other Christians observing this Lenten season in whatever way was personal to them. 

Even though Lent is observed a little differently from church to church and even from person to person, I am reminded of a paragraph I read late last year: 

Unity is not uniformity. Unity is harmony; uniformity is monotony. Do not stickle for uniformity, as long as unity is secured. The having the same order of Worship, the same liturgical observances, the same hymns and the same prayers in the same method of arrangement, -  friends, the Unity of the Church of Christ does not consist in this.*

So, even though Lent is not observed uniformly by all Christians, every Lent I am still reminded that we are all one Church--united in our desire to be closer to God this season, if not uniform in how we choose to do it.

 

*Quote from On the Communion Office by Goulburn; 1865 (pg 16)