As Lent gets going, I find myself once again more immediately face to face with God. Some of my most profound encounters with the divine have come in the silence and reflection that this season affords, and one of my favourite services, the Maundy Thursday vigil, also falls during this time. I love listening to the choir chant Psalm 22 as the altar is stripped of it’s finery.
It was a stripped altar that first showed me the ‘point’, as it were, of liturgical worship, decorated altars and formally observing the seasons of the church year. I was at my parents for Easter, and decided to go to the local parish church, St. Michael’s, Flixton for Good Friday. I had been to the church before, but I had no concept of decorations on the altar changing, or even being removed. So when I walked into the church and saw the bare altar, with just a rough wooden cross propped up in front of it, I was dumbstruck. I still remember the feeling of utter desolation: where is he? Where has Jesus gone? The sense of loss, of something being missing, was physical, and from then on I’ve been on this journey with God that has combined liturgy and silence.
The cycle of liturgy gives an anchor to life, whether that’s stopping 2, 3 or 4 times a day to pray the offices or the weekly rhythm of Holy Communion. Far from causing words and prayers to lose all meaning, the repetition means that they seep into your soul, and can float to the surface as needed. They’re always close at hand. When the liturgy becomes familiar, you notice parts of it more. It wasn’t until I joined a church that consecrated and shared bread and wine, body and blood, on a weekly basis that it’s meanings became such a key part of my faith. I have come to feel increasingly awestruck that we are invited to His table, that each week we retell, recall and reenact those last moments in the upper room.
During Lent, these daily and weekly encounters with God take on new significance. This is desert time, when the ordinary pressures and fripperies of life are cast aside so we may gaze more intently on His face, may shelter more deliberately under the shadow of His wing. And as we do so, we move ever closer to the glorious cry: “Christ is risen!”