Mardi Gras and Easter vs. Lent and Good Friday. When you think of inviting others to church this time of year many people are more drawn to welcome people to join in the excess of Mardi Gras or the elation of Easter than in the somber remembrance of Lent and Passion Week. Don’t we want to invite people to church when they will see a celebration and can get caught up in the festivities? We want to welcome people when think the church is at its best, which often means decorated, rehearsed, and filled with smiling faces.
Yet, maybe the observance of Lent opens up a needed hospitality that can be lacking in our churches when we focus on welcoming people to an upbeat, well planned event. Though we may want to show off our church’s best side to visitors, if that’s the only side they see our churches soon become like any other institution that markets to the desires of possible consumers. Lent can provide space for people to let down their outer shells created to please the external world.
Lent is a marginal, a liminal time. We are between times, preparing for a story we know to expect, Jesus’ resurrection, but aren’t yet there in the church year. During this time, we are walking with Jesus on his journey to the cross, a story not of triumph but of questioning, miscommunication, and doubt. During these times the readings show a Jesus who is open about what will be happening and shares his pain. He is suffering along with the people around him.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Matthew 23:37
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:38-39
Christine Pohl in her book Making Room writes that “Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, Christian hospitality has always had a subversive, countercultural dimension” (61). Inviting people into the church’s Lenten practices – whether that includes a time of self-reflection, singing hymns in minor keys, or a discipline of sacrifice – offers this countercultural dimension. The time of Lent directs us to see ourselves as the sinners we are, to repent – and in turn to provide this gift that God offers to us to others. It’s a safe place to let go and be who we are in brokenness, not who we or others imagine we are.