“… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His Glorious Body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore, my brothers, … stand firm thus in the Lord…” Philippians 3:20-4:1 ESV – Epistle for Lent II, Year C
During my formative years in southern Ontario, I recall that the season of Lent was a relatively dour period, for churchgoers. Fasts, vigils, special Lenten programmes at the churches, no “Alleluias”, very little laughter (at least when anyone could hear), … in short not much fun. But then, we weren’t to expect that, were we? This was “serious time” in the life of the church. We were meant to be recalling the 40 days of Jesus’ being tested and tempted in the wilderness, preparing to remember His gruesome and most appalling death, and reminding ourselves that it was somehow our fault. Heavy stuff for a kid aged 11 or so. Heavy stuff for most adults too.
And then I moved north, following my ordination, into the land of the Inuit (initially in what was then the Northwest Territories and later to become Nunavut). And with me moved my trappings of the somber season of Lent.
However, in the years I have lived in the North, I have had a very hard time maintaining, and causing others to maintain, that sense of Lent’s severity.
Most years during Lent, and especially those years where Lent begins particularly early, our communities in the North are undergoing a wondrous change. For anywhere from 6 weeks to several months, we have been pursuing our lives and livelihoods in relative darkness, having seen no sunshine. And yet, as Lent progresses, the sun returns. Even as I write these words, the tiny hamlet of Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island is celebrating the 4-minute appearance of the sun for the first time in 2016 as it crests over the horizon before sinking back. And as each day marches on, more and more sunshine draws forth.
Life begins to expand past the streetlights, hunters are travelling further and further afield in the luxury of longer days, the ravens (always present) begin to be more evident, and while we are a long, long way from what we choose to call spring, the scope of our lives are growing day by day as we enjoy the promise of transformation.
Darkness becomes light, despair becomes hope, the winter begins to ebb away as new life and change approaches. We look to the coming of the Lord to complete our transformation, our change.
So how do we do Lent? Not so much of the “mea culpas”, although some of us do do the ashes; not so many of the vigils, though we are all watching the skies. We do speak of repentance, but we long for the restoration. As best as we might therefore, we “stand firm thus in the Lord”.
The Rev’d. Canon S. Paul Williams is an Associate of Holy Cross Priory, Toronto, and Priest-in-Charge of the Anglican Churches in the communities of Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, and Ulukhaktok, Diocese of the Arctic.