Today is Ash Wednesday, and though this is going up late, I think it appropriate.
The Lenten season is one of the most difficult periods of the Christian year. It is a time of reflection and repentance for our sins. It begins with Ash Wednesday, which is above all a startling reminder of our mortality. "Remember, O Man, that Thou are dust, and to dust Thou shalt return."
I have written recently about the importance of confronting this fact as individuals. But Ash Wednesday reminds us that we must confront our own mortality corporately. It is not enough to be isolated in our acknowledgement of our sin: as a Church, we must confess, repent and return to the Lord.
Evangelicals sometimes struggle to admit "celebrations" such as Lent into their corporate life. After all, it can be depressing to spend a whole service on how sinful we are. But at the same time, if we as Christians are going to have the Word of God be active among us, then we must have the whole Word of God active among us, not just those parts that we are comfortable with. Not only Easter, but Good Friday. Psalm 51 in addition to Psalm 150. Our communal life must be canonical--it must reflect the diverse nature of the Scriptures. The canon includes many diverse elements, and our communities need to incorporate those elements. From difficult intellectual slogging (Romans) to telling our history (1 and 2 Chronicles, etc) to singing in worship (Psalm 150), our experience with each other should reflect the various elements of Scripture.
And as we are reminded on Ash Wednesday, and for all of Lent, that includes mourning.
The celebration of Lent (or some equivalent--theoretically, if evangelicals created their own church calendar equivalent, I wouldn't be opposed to it) is only worthwhile if individuals enter into communion with their Risen Lord during it. But celebrating it as a community allows us to ensure that the whole counsel of God has room to speak into our communities, as much as our hearts.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.