Before a person leaves their place of comfort, e.g. home, they must first have a general idea of where they are going. Otherwise, their journey becomes empty, inefficient and quite pointless. Likewise, Lent, above all, is a journey: a spiritual journey and the destination is the glorious Feast of all Feasts, Easter! Throughout the Pascha, or ‘Passover’, we strive to move forward in this spiritual journey although Christ did not command us to celebrate the Pascha such as seen in Jewish culture, but rather to realise that He is the new Feast. St Paul clearly highlights this belief and celebration of the New Testament, that is, that Christ Himself is the Eternal and Everlasting feast for all believers: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Therefore, we must understand that there is a very special connection between Lent and Easter! Easter is not only one of the greatest Feasts nor is it simply a yearly commemoration of a significant event. Easter is not just the end of a week of hymns, fasting and prayer, neither do we merely participate in a night brighter than day, but we should also celebrate Easter as something that has happened and continues to happen to us daily.
Through this occasion we receive the gift of a new life, the power and strength to accept that new life and a chance to live that life joyfully. It is a gift that drastically and completely alters our attitudes towards the world and society around us, including the prospect of death itself. By this, and through the Resurrection itself, it is now possible for us to proclaim in our hymns that Christ has conquered death – this, of course, does not excuse the natural process of physical death. Certainly, we will all face death and it’ll come one day and take us, but as an essential part of our faith, we believe that by His death, He has taken death itself and remoulded it to become a part of the journey to Him. Father Alexander Schmemann explains this accurately and says “Christ changed the very nature of death and He made it a passage, a ‘Passover’ and a ‘Pascha’ into the kingdom of God”. Christ transforms what may seem like a tragedy, that is, the rejection of the Creator by His creation, into the ultimate victory.
This Passover is evident in the Church even today, in the countless martyrs and saints who die for the name of Christ to affirm this faith, that death is just a passage to Him, thus participating in Christ the Pascha Himself. However, this may seem uncommon to us as it is not part of our daily experience and we may, in fact, never experience this participation in our lifetimes because we quite naturally forget.We become so busy, drown ourselves willingly in daily preoccupations and forget to die daily with Him. The reality is, when we forget, we simply fail. The failure, the sin and the constant forgetfulness only lead us to live a life of ‘old’. We form a routine that is petty, dark and ultimately meaningless. We strive daily in a “meaningless journey towards a meaningless end”. We may even, at times, seek guidance from a Priest or visit the sacrament of Confession, yet we will not live our NEW LIFE: the life that Christ has revealed and granted us through his unparalleled love.
Essentially, we live as if He never came. We live anxiously awaiting the next day and we forget to live today with Him.
This in itself is the greatest sin; it is a draining and lonely sadness and a reality that many Christians (and even dedicated churchgoers) live and are sometimes unaware of.
However, if we realise this, then we can understand what Easter really is and why Easter needs the Great Lent. During Lent, the Liturgical services and its traditions, such as dedicated daily readings and the devoted hymns, exist to help us mend our vision and remain focused on the new life, which we so easily betray and evade. The ‘old’ life of sin is not easily overcome and changed so effortlessly and this is why Lent is so important. For it is in this period that the Church extends to us the ‘School of Repentance’, which allows us to openly and mindfully accept and receive Easter, not only as a gateway for all the food luxuries that proceed the Fast but to end the ‘old’ in us and enter into the ‘new’. Let the Lent and Easter period each year be an opportunity to recover us in Him and through Him!
SAYG ~ Michael Soliman.