By Scott Baker
Most readers know of the Christian season of Lent. Lent is that period of time observed by Christians leading up to the feast of Easter. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a 40-day season (not including Sundays, which are always feast days) marked by contrition, penance, Scripture study, fasting, austerity and alms giving. It is intended to help Christians walk more closely in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who spent 40 days of deprivation in the wilderness just prior to beginning his earthly ministry.
However, I wonder how many readers know that there once was another Lent? In fact, on Sunday Nov. 8, we began that other season of Lent although most Christians didn’t even know it. Many readers know that the season of Advent is fast approaching. Advent is that four-week period of time leading up to the feast of Christmas. This year it begins on Nov. 29. However, until Advent became formalized, there existed another season known as St. Martin’s Lent. It began on Nov. 12, the day after the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. In fact, this season was decreed by the first council of Maçon in 581 A.D. and was observed for many centuries until the season of Advent was formalized much later.
For many years this was a period of time that very much mirrored its springtime counterpart with fasting and prayer. This season wasn’t four weeks but rather, seven weeks long. Like its counterpart of Lent in the spring, it too was a season of preparation for the great feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. Whereas the springtime Lent is focused on purification and cleansing, St. Martin’s Lent is focused on anticipation and preparation. This can be seen especially through the gospel lessons appointed to be read and heard in the Sunday liturgy. The Bible lessons focus on the second coming of Jesus Christ and our response to it. The point being, just as we look with joy and gladness at his first advent in the Nativity, so too do we look with hope and anticipation to his second advent when all things will be made new.
Perhaps this year we would be well served to revive an observance of St. Martin’s Lent. After a hearty observance of Martinmas (St. Martin’s feast day), we could revive some intentional practices that hallow this time of year as we make our preparations for celebrating Christmas and looking with hope to a time when God will fulfill the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Rather than frantically completing our Christmas shopping, maybe we could slow down, and take time to focus on the reason why we are shopping in the first place.
At this time of surging COVID-19 cases and turmoil in our country and around the world, many are looking upward and longing for the return of Jesus. Perhaps it is more for a hope of deliverance than consummation of God’s purposes. Regardless, we have reason to hope for a future where “mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Rev. 12:4b).”
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.