As we have begun our Lenten journey toward Holy Week and the joyous celebration of the victory of our Lord Jesus in His death and life-giving Resurrection, I would like to encourage us to consider some aspects of Lenten observance that may not always have much emphasis in traditional practice, but have great presence in the practice of the early Christians.
As you are aware, the word "lent" is from the Old English " lencten, lengten spring", Lent = literally, lengthening, and refers to the beginning of the lengthening of daylight hours from the shorter days that we experience during the winter, starting with the winter solstice. During the month of December, on or around the winter solstice, the celebration of the birth of our Savior, who is the Light of the world, is commemorated at the Christmas feast and all through the Christmas season. During the darkest time of the year, we celebrate the Light of God in His eternal and Beloved Son breaking into our fallen history to take us on the redeeming Journey that leads us into the new "lent", or springtime of the fulfillment of His covenant promises to humanity made in His image and to all of His beloved creation. That journey culminates during Holy Week and the celebration of Christ's glorious victory on our behalf in His death, burial and resurrection.
During the first few centuries of the Church's life and mission in the world, Lent was actually the time for the final 40 days of intensive preparation of new followers of Jesus for their baptism on the eve of the Sunday of the Resurrection, which we know as the Great Easter Vigil in the Western Church. One of the little known and least focused upon elements of that preparation that Justin Martyr, writing in the mid second century A. D., mentions is the weekly practice (and daily during Holy Week itself) of the new catechumens being prayed over for the healing of the wounds of their former sins, as well as going through anointing with oil and exorcisms for the breaking and expelling of evil spirits. In addition, they were encouraged to confess their past sins that would have opened them to the need for healing and deliverance from these unclean spirits. The wounding caused by their own sins and the sins of others against them and their having been involved often in contaminating acts of defilement in their former manner of living which would open them to the incursion of evil spirits and their ongoing influence were taken very seriously during the Lenten preparations for baptism in water and the Spirit and full reception into the life of the Christian community.
So, gradually, as they went through being taught the Gospel, being anointed and prayed over for deep inner healing and the casting out of evil spirits, they were experiencing the supernatural power of the reality of Christ's victory over sin and darkness and all their effects in human life and personality. It was a healing journey to the waters of baptism that increasingly brought them into the experience of the Light of Christ's saving work transforming their lives and working ever more deeply into every aspect of their living. As a result, when they went through the waters of baptism the early followers of Jesus came out as though truly rescued and delivered from the "Egyptian" bondage of their previous lives. The full Light of God's new day brought about by the incarnation, Life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus dawned upon them in the waters and as they came forth, as from the darkness of the womb, into the Light of new Life in the Kingdom of God.
My encouragement to all of us during the remaining days of our Lenten journey and preparation for renewal of our own baptismal vows is that we focus again on the healing and deliverance aspects of our Lord's work in our behalf provided through His death and resurrection. It might be that we could focus in meditative prayer and journal reflections on the healing and exorcism accounts found in the four Gospels of our Savior's earthly ministry. Maybe, for some, focusing on these acts of our Lord might be more fruitful if studied and meditatively pondered in only one of the Gospel accounts, such as Mark or Matthew. In doing so, let us ask the Holy Spirit to work ever more deeply in each of our own lives to fill us with Christ's healing, delivering and restoring Light and power so that we may experience a greater and greater freedom and wholeness in our own journey with Christ. In this way, our Lenten experience can become an equipping and empowering encounter as we surrender ourselves and each area of our lives and personalities that still need His healing touch and may prove to hold the power to make our witness of His resurrection a more vital and vibrant reality to those around us.
The days are beginning to gradually lengthen into spring and new Life. May we all experience the reality of the verse from Proverbs that states, "the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, the grows brighter and brighter until full Day!" Grace, peace and healing mercy be with each of you and your families during our Lenten journey toward the full Light of the Resurrection glory of our mighty Lord!
Yours in the Way of Jesus,
Bishop Wayne Boosahda