A day or two before Ash Wednesday, I remarked to my husband, “I can’t wait for Lent.” In a dreary year of isolation, anxiety, moral quandaries, political polarization, disease, and death, compounded all the more by the last few months of gloomy, wintry skies and cold weather, I am ready for spring. Lent means that spring is coming and that Easter is drawing ever nearer. It is a yearly routine that remains unchanging even in the face of a pandemic and societal disruption.
Routine and the “Merely Inconvenienced”
Among all the intense suffering we’ve witnessed recently, I might categorize a different group that my husband and I fall into as the “merely inconvenienced.” We give thanks that we haven’t lost jobs or loved ones to the pandemic, our mental health is generally intact, we don’t have a family of little ones to guide through online learning, and we have a wonderful church community to offer mutual support and encouragement. I remember early on in 2020 people criticizing another group of the “merely inconvenienced”: high school athletes who mourned the loss of their sports seasons. The sentiment of the criticisms was that these athletes shouldn’t complain because the loss of a sports season is inconsequential compared to all the other suffering happening around them.
These naysayers miss the point of all of the “merely inconvenienced.” Although, of course, we should be thankful for our blessings of health and an income, there is a very real suffering in the loss of those things we love that mark the seasons of our years. The loss of our routines is something to be mourned. Routine, and its partner, repetition, are vital aspects of humanity, and when we lose them, we lose the things that give us comfort and a purpose.
Routine and Repetition in the Church
Thus, God gives us the gift of routine and repetition in the Church Year and in the Divine Service. The Church Year grants us a great and glorious routine year after year, and it carries with it the liturgy, which gives our days and even our hours meaning and routine. At every Divine Service, we follow the same routine that guides us from confessing our sins, to hearing God’s Word, to receiving His salvation in the Eucharist. Although our hymnal presents us with various settings of the Divine Service, the components never vary.
The sameness of the liturgy, far from being dull and full of empty words, trains us, much like an athlete trains for his sport or a musician on her instrument. The athlete and musician are never criticized for repetition because it is well known that repetition sharpens skills and increases strength and stamina. The liturgy is our “training” for the life of a Christian. The text of the liturgy, taken from the Word, gives us the proper language to use to respond to God’s gift of salvation. We do not have to worry about coming up with something new and novel every day or about providing adequate language ourselves. Instead, God gives us the words. We then repeat these words week after week until we have them memorized, ingraining them in our minds and hearts.
A Routine for Our Salvation
All this routine and repetition is for our salvation. At the Divine Service each week, Christ offers His own body and blood to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. This Sacrament gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, and it is not up to us to procure it. When what we do is limited, when our routines are disrupted, Christ comes to us in the Holy Supper, never changing, always repeating. He never tires of the sameness of the service. It is His gift to us that we do not have to figure it out on our own but rather can rely on His Word and His Sacraments. The liturgy is our routine that brings us to this Supper. Even when the routines of the world are disrupted and mourned, the routine of the liturgy is ever-present, with us for thousands of years and continuing into eternity.
The routine of the liturgy continues to draw us into the story of salvation and leads us to that which grants us salvation: Christ and His body and blood shed for us. Continue your training. Continue your salvific routine even amid the turmoil of the world. Spring is coming. Easter is coming. Christ’s resurrection is near.