With the 40 days of penitence and fasting to prepare for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning come Wednesday night church services.
I love church at night.
That’s why I also like Advent and the four Wednesday night services each December that prepare us for the birth of Bethlehem’s baby.
Some Christian churches don’t observe Lent, something I cannot imagine. But many do hold Wednesday night and Sunday night services — year around.
My husband was raised in such a denomination down South. He has many fond memories of those days. Three hours every week were spent in church.
Jim and I have talked about it many times and did so again this week when the topic of Lent came up.
“I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night with my grandmother,” he said. “We just knew if the door was open, we were supposed to be there. But, I don’t remember anything about Lent. I had never heard of Lent.”
Until he became a Lutheran nearly 50 years ago.
Now going to Wednesday night Lenten services takes him back to the Wednesday nights of his youth.
“I’m from the old school,” he said. “If the door is open, you go. It’s something you want to do. It’s a special time of year and it’s a special service.”
He does, however, think Lutherans could add some good ole songs to their repertoire. For example, he’d think he’d died and gone to heaven if we ever sang “Standing on the Promises,” “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” “Power in the Blood,” or “Bringing in the Sheaves.”
Just this week, he picked up his old hymnal and I heard him reliving his childhood from another room.
Yes, he was singing.
I must admit I love those songs, too.
My first Lenten memories come from my home country church, Bethlehem Lutheran, near Upham, N.D. I loved going there when the stars were out in full bloom.
That’s where I learned the beautiful Vespers service from the old Lutheran Hymnal that came out in 1941. I loved a part of the liturgy called The Nunc Dimittis. Words for the canticle (song) come right from the Bible.
The wonder of Lent and its series of services stand out in every place we’ve ever lived and attended church since our marriage: Peace Lutheran in Great Falls, Mont.; Trinity Lutheran in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Bethlehem Lutheran in Rapid City, S.D.; and St. Mark’s Lutheran in Minot. But, for sure, there’s one church that stands out more than any other. It’s St. Paul’s Lutheran in Minot, where I went to Lenten services during my college years.
Each week, as the Vespers service ended, the congregation sang, “Abide with Me.” Everyone knew the eighth verse by heart. There was no need for the lights to be on so in total darkness with only a beam of light from the balcony that was fixed on the cross on the altar below we sang:
“Hold thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
Decades have passed between then and now, but I haven’t forgotten the power of those moments and the glow of the night. It was like being engulfed in a tomb, with that ray of light offering the hope that Easter Sunday morning brings.
That light and that hope is the reason we experience the fasting, penitence, the darkness and the ashes of Lent.