“A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see – far away—the destination. It is the joy of Easter; it is the entrance into the glory of the kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter that makes Lent’s sadness bright and our Lenten effort a “spiritual spring.” The night may be long and dark, but all the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon.” (Alexander Schmemann)

Just as Advent was a journey to the Incarnation of Christ, so is Lent a journey to Easter. When Schmemann talks about the “bright sadness” of Lent he speaks of the tension between the walk and the journey’s end. In the walk to Easter, we begin with the temptation of Christ in the desert, and it’s there we embark on our own journey as we contemplate our sins and moral failures. Yet there is a dawn! There on the horizon waits our Savior risen in His glory! I often think about how my daily life seems so myopic, so restricted to the cares and concerns of my daily life – with its struggles, with its pains and with its sins. Just a few days ago, my husband and I were driving through the West Virginia mountains. It was early morning, and the fog was dense. But as the sun rose, we caught glimpses of these magnificent mountains surrounding us on the road. I remember looking up and seeing those massive hills and the sun was just barely rising on the horizon. I found great peace in looking up and out at the beauty and just letting my eyes rest in their greatness. Lent is like that – It’s a somber journey as we follow Christ through the desert and through all the ways he endured suffering for us. Our journey is a return from the far countries of our sins and excesses.

“It’s the walk back from the pigsties of our personal ‘far countries,’ where we feed on mere food and pleasure, in diminishing returns, to the house of the Father, who always, always, seems to meet us more than halfway down the road.”

Touchstone Magazine

But to return to Schmemann’s language of “bright sadness” it’s the dawn on the horizon that makes that sadness bright! It’s the resurrection of our Lord, and the promise of our own resurrections that spur us on! 

In many traditions of the Church both now and in the early church, new adult converts to the faith would spend the season of Lent preparing for their baptisms on Easter Sunday. This was a season of learning and discernment that they were ready to be fully initiated in the faith. As well, baptized Christians were given the exhortation to re-affirm their own baptisms. And that is what I propose for us to do this Lent. As we make our way to Easter, we look to our baptism promises and re-affirm them. What a season to turn our hearts back to the Lord, what a season to remember the journey home from the far country!  

Father Schmemann refers to baptism as a “rule of life.” I suggest that we take up his exhortation here and do jut that for Lent – that we let our baptisms be the measure of our becoming as Christ would call us to. May it be the source and power of our lives! 

“…to remain faithful to his baptism, living by it, making it always the source and power of his life, a constant judgment, criterion, inspiration, ‘rule of life’.”

Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit

Our re-affirmation includes the following promises:

  • That we have renounced Satan and all his ways
  • That we have turned from our own ways and from sin
  • That my allegiance is to Christ and that I have chosen to walk in all his ways
  • That I will look to the Holy Spirit to empower me to continue to live out my baptism and to equip me for all good deeds to the glory of Christ’s kingdom.

This promise to God sets us on the path toward Easter but it also sets us on the path to further maturity and formation in Christ.  It might be reframed in a simple way by asking the question when we wake up every morning: “How shall I live out my baptism today?” Take a moment now and bring that question before the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to form in you truth that remains, truth that goes deep into your soul.  Ask Him to reveal the Father, Son and Spirit to you this Lenten season. In Christ’s baptism we see the fullness of the Trinity – the voice of the Father, and the appearance of the Holy Spirit and of course the Son immersed in the waters of baptism. In our own baptisms we can also know and receive the fullness of God – in His revelation of the Himself as the Three in One. There are unlimited areas of grace that God can renew in us.

As we go through Lent there are certain practices we can take part in that will help us in practical ways. I’ll write more on that soon.

But this is where our journey begins. It begins with water – and the references in the Old Testament speak to the power of water. The Catholic catechism says this: “If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross. By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ’s death.” So, we look to the crossing of the Red Sea as the beginning of the liberation of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, and thus our own liberation; we look to the Jordan river as the water of the promised land for Israel and eternal life for us given by the Father through the Son!

In Paul’s letters we see that he constantly speaks the language of baptism. (I urge you to read Paul looking for the language of death and life, and baptism. In every letter but two (1 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy) his writings declare that we who have faith in Christ have died to sin and have been raised with Christ. Paul has turned the experiences of the Christian life and made them theological truth. A language of sanctification emerges then which gives voice to how we are called to live our lives. Lent affords us the opportunity to study the Scriptures and be renewed and strengthened by them in this concrete way. Take Paul’s words here in Romans and write them on your hearts – “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”   Romans 6:4

St Gregory of Nazianzus calls baptism “God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . .. We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift.

It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; 

Grace since it is given even to the guilty; 
Baptism because sin is buried in the water; 
Anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; 
Enlightenment because it radiates light; 
Clothing since it veils our shame; 
Bath because it washes; and 
Seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship. 
(St. Gregory Of Nazianzus, Oratio 40,3-4:PG 36,361C.)

My invitation to you friends, is that we immerse ourselves (pun intended) in the beauty of the baptismal waters. If you have strayed, or simply forgotten, Lent affords us this opportunity – to remember the power of what Christ has done in and with us. May we encourage each other with this truth. In fact, I would encourage you to invite someone else into your Lenten journey. Share it, speak of it, live it, receive it. Amen.