Matt Harrison’s Little Book of Joy is designed for this season of the year, and he’s posted the following on his website, http://mercyjourney.blogspot.com. It’s well worth your reading, and you can obtain your copy here, or you can save on shipping by purchasing 5 copies here.
“Eh, what muddleheads you people are! How do you keep lent?” The Great Ninety Days of Joy After Joy
What follows is the introduction to “The Great Ninety Days of Joy After Joy” in “A Little Book on Joy.” Blessed Lent!
A Sad Brightness, and a Bright Sadness
“Eh, what muddleheads you peoples are! How do you keep Lent?” (Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov). We are “muddle- heads,” indeed, when we fail to see that Lent is also a time of joy. I am no fan of Eastern Orthodoxy but heartily concur with Alex- ander Schmemann’s description of Lent as “Sad brightness”: the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home. Such is the climate of Lenten worship; such is its first and general impact on my soul [Schmemann, Great Lent (St. Vladimir, 1974), 33].
And so, beginning with Ash Wednesday, I have added the forty days of Lent to the journey of joy. By the second century, the forty day period of preparation for baptism on Holy Saturday was well established in many places in the Church. The “fasting” of Lent did not include the Sundays which were “in” but not “of ” Lent, and so I have not numbered them below. From the festival of the Resurrection to Pentecost are fifty days, long called “Fifty Days of Joy” by the Church, and also the Lutheran Church [Hermann Sasse, “Fifty Days of Joy,” Lutheran Herald (April 8, 1961)]. The ninety days include two distinct periods. The first, forty days of “sad brightness” (Lent). The second, fifty days of Eastertide, a “bright sadness”â€”that is, a life facing sin, death, and the devil, but with an unquenchable resurrection joy. Thus, Ninety Days of Joy after Joy.
For the weeks prior to Easter, I have generally ordered the texts according to a regular, recurring, daily theme (common for Lent), and connected also to the theme of the previous Sunday if possible. For the weeks after Easter, I have allowed the texts to follow the themes and order of the Small Catechism, except for the Sundays.
Sundayâ€”Joyous theme of the week
Mondayâ€”Joy in the Old Testament
Tuesdayâ€”Joy in caring for the needy
Wednesdayâ€”Joy in the Gospels
Thursdayâ€”Joy in Epistles, amidst affliction etc.
Fridayâ€”Joy in God’s gifts in this world
Saturdayâ€”Joy in repentance
Prepare to meditate. Find a quiet spot. A comfortable kneeler focuses the attention well, but you will probably find yourself at a table, a desk, or a favorite easy chair. Take a few deep, clearing breaths, and continue to breath deeply. Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Clear your mind. Pray for clarity of mind and a receptive heart. Now read the text and prayer.
1. Ash Wednesday: Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near . . . ” Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! . . . Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God . . .” ( Joel 2:1, 12–13, 21, 23).
Read it again, slowly. What words are beginning to jump at you? What words trouble you? Encourage you? Disturb you? Comfort you? What does this text teach you? Possibilities abound: true repen- tance, God’s seriousness over repentance, he wants the heart. God is merciful and gracious. He acts for our benefit. We need not fear. What do we have to be thankful for in this text? Many of the same things about which he instructs us, to be sure. I’m thankful that the Lord desires us to “be glad and rejoice.” What can we confess? Thankless hearts, lack of repentance, false repentance, rejection of the Lord’s steadfast love. Now pray.
Instruction: O Lord, you teach us here that you desire true repentance and sorrow over sin, and that you are merciful and slow to anger. You also desire our joy in you.
Thanksgiving: I thank you for your mercies, for your call to repentance, for your patience with me, for your mercy, for your steadfast love.
Confession: I confess my many sins, my lack of repentance, my insincerity, my failure to follow through, secret sins of weakness, and especially my great lack of joy.
Prayer: Righteous and Just Judge, you know the hearts of all. Help me, I pray, in this time of repentance, to acknowledge my sinfulness with true sorrow. Forgive my many failings and faults, and grant me increasing joy in your eternal mercies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
That’s “I.T.C.P.”â€”Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer. As you practice it daily, it will become second nature and a great blessing for your meditation and prayer. You may certainly read the texts with your family at the table, with your women’s/men’s group, or by yourself, even without using Luther’s method. You can also use Luther’s method as a catechetical tool with your family or others. In any case, prepare for “joy after joy.”