Turn toward joy this Lent

February 01, 2013

I had the privilege of being a spiritual director on a Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) weekend last November. One Saturday morning, the focus for worship was Easter. I have experienced a lot of Easter services, but never one quite like this.

The students filed in, still in their pajamas, having been awakened with a serenade. They sleepily shuffled their way into worship. But as we began with the words, “Christ has risen, he has risen indeed!,” they started waking up. By the end of the service they were standing on the pews, singing their hearts out, dancing, and passing the peace by giving each other high-fives. Now that was Easter! The joy was palpable.

Christians are often considered a serious lot. We are supposed to be reverent before a holy God and we think that means quiet, somber, and serious. That gets emphasized especially at Lent. Many think of Lent as a penitential season when we are to make a serious examination of our lives and to repent. We retell the story of the passion of Christ, and there is nothing light about that story. In liturgical churches, the word “Alleluia” is not even used during Lent. A serious Lent is supposed to make us ready for a joyful Easter and help us experience the contrast of resurrection to the crucifixion.

I came across this provocative thought from Maya Angelou: “Laugh as often as possible. You must. Because the world will offer you every reason to weep. So as often as possible, you laugh. That, I think, is part of the Great Love.”

Yes, Lent is a season of repentance. But remember, the word repentance means to turn and face a new direction. Jesus said that his desire is that his joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete.

What if you made Lent a season of turning—turning away from the bad news of our world to the good news of a God who can bring life out of death. Turning away from staying stuck in our past, rehashing all we’ve done wrong and all our mistakes, to claiming God’s grace that tells us we are forgiven and free and that we can start today as a new beginning. Turning away from our subdued worship to a palpable experience of joy, where any observer from any walk of life would see that something amazing has happened in our lives and they’d want a taste of it.

After all, we know how the story ends. We know Sunday is coming, and resurrection is what God has done and is doing. What if we actually acted like it and lived it and people saw it in us? That is true repentance.

I’ve decided that my Lenten practice will be to laugh as much as possible. Every day, when I find myself being too serious, I am going to turn to play. And I intend to find something to put on my desk that makes me smile to remind me to choose joy and to practice resurrection. I dare to believe that this practice is very reverent; it is deeply honoring the God who came to give us an abundant and joyful life and it is a witness to an anxious world that there is a something to be discovered in the Christian life that makes hope real.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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