I remember as a child the effect midweek Lenten devotional services had on me. First of all it seemed very strange that we would get dressed and go to church in the evenings. I knew we did that on Christmas Eve but going to church at night other than that was strange to me. The darkness outside, the dim light in the churches, the dolorus and sometimes downright depressing music impressed upon my mind that something special was going on here. Very early on the striking image of the rooster crowing and Jesus looking at Peter in the courtyard and running out weeping has moved me.
Growing up in a mainly Roman Catholic town, so Catholic that we had one large church for the Latino population and another large church for the mainly Bohemian/Irish congregation and even a convent with a real nuns, and a parochial school, Lent became a time of great conversation and anticipation. Walking home after school with my Catholic friends, seeing the smudges on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday (which my pastor did not observe) and the conversations about what would be sacrificed for Lent were illuminating. The usual suspects of spinach and broccoli being given up were always mentioned but there were very serious people who actually did give up meat for the 40 days of Lent. Some of my friends gave up bubblegum and chocolate and I remember offering to give up my Christmas Lutefisk for next year but was informed that future sacrifices did not apply.
My mother enjoyed the special devotion services on Wednesday evenings during Lent even though my father probably missed half of them because of his shift work. She liked the peace and quiet, and the hymns like “Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain” and “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed”.
These were quiet contemplative times in the midst of the busyness of raising two boys and working full-time. The Lenten devotional was not something to be avoided but it was actually looked forward to. Someone, and I can’t remember who, made the statement that most people he knows have given up Lent for Lent. He went on to say but most people are simply too busy for Lent and they almost immediately forget the Ash Wednesday observation that “you are dust and to dust you shall return”. In this world he said, “you may be too busy for Lenten devotional exercises, but you’re never too busy to die”.