Tonight I asked the forgiveness of about 30 people. They also asked me for forgiveness, and each other. It was at one of my very favorite church services of the year: Forgiveness Vespers. The Catholic church has Ash Wednesday, where they remember Christ's death and their own. We have the call to become community. To "give up" selfishness and pride, and to sacrifice them for the call of being one in Christ. Living as one with the world. To overlook petty differences and act on the love that Jesus calls us to.
The service starts out in non-Lent. Everything is as normal times. Then the moment of Lent arrives. The chanters (and I was blessed to be among them tonight) sing "Do not turn your face away from your servant, for I am in trouble. Hear me speedily, hearken to my prayer, and deliver me." The altar cloths are changed to the purple of Lent, as are the priests' and deacons' vestments. The lights even darken somewhat. But Lent is not a somber time--not a time to mourn what we must "give up" but a time to bask in the simplicity of what is truly needed, what is truly good. Yes, we give up meat and cheese. But we enjoy that much more the simple foods of Lent. Dried fruit and nuts are staples in my family's diet during Lent. When you take the time to really enjoy these foods, really enjoy their chewy texture and their flavor, it is a form of meditation. We have many more church services during Lent than in any other time of the year. They are very beautiful and different from the regular services. They hold different meaning, a different "flavor" as well. We are encouraged to simplify our lives and to look inward to our hearts and outward to the community.
At the conclusion of the service of Vespers of Forgiveness, the priest first asks each person's forgiveness, and offers his own, and then we go on down the line--everyone forgives everyone. It's a practice that I wish we could do with the whole congregation, but forgiveness is not something you can force on people. Perhaps that's why we do not have this service on Sunday morning. You have the option of not attending if your heart is not ready to forgive or to seek forgiveness.
What are we forgiving? What have we done that is so awful? We've become a broken people. We do not commune fully. We have allowed small differences to make the difference in our relationships. Such is the human experience. But tonight we made a small step toward wholeness.
Tomorrow, rather than the Retreat of Silence that we had last year on the first day of Lent, we will have the service of Holy Unction, the annointing of oil for the healing of our souls and bodies. Another fitting start to Lent. (But I will miss the retreat! I hope for it's return next year.)
I ask you, my readers, for forgiveness. May we move ever toward community.