Lent and Holy Week Resources

Resources for a fruitful Lenten journey:

Great Lent: A Spiritual Guidebook
Lenten Services Explained
Sample Lent Prayer Rule
Family Guide to Lent
Preparing for Confession
Sunday Commemorations
Lent Worship Schedule
Lent Speaker Series

The Hobbit begins with Bilbo Baggins disturbed by the arrival of Gandalf and 13 dwarves, who press him to join their journey.
Hobbits enjoy well-appointed hobbit holes, creature comforts, and routines – the predictable life of the Shire, sheltered from the uncertainty of the world. Unexpected visitors bring unwelcome disruption.
In the morning, Bilbo delights to awaken to an empty home. The visitors have left! Everything can return to normal. But just then, to his surprise, Bilbo discovers a gnawing within – an intrigue, a yearning, an emptiness that must be filled.
He packs his bag and runs out, hoping he hasn’t missed the opportunity. With great relief, he catches up to the group and is thrown on a horse.
A moment later Bilbo sneezes and says, “Ah, horse hair… I’m having a reaction. Wait, wait. Stop, stop! We have to turn around.”
“What on earth is the matter?” asks Gandalf.
“I forgot my handkerchief.”
Gandalf replies, “You’ll have to manage without pocket handkerchiefs and a good many other things, Bilbo Baggins, before we reach our journey’s end. Home is now behind you; the world is ahead.”
This is the existential crossroads everyone must face. It’s the idiom of: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24).
The Church would have us face this crossroads – the choice between me and God – not only when grace mysteriously awakens the heart, but also every year to prepare for the Feast of feasts, the Day of days: Pascha, our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead.
Great Lent is that preparation. What can feel like a collection of bothersome rules – daily prayer, more services, turning off screens, giving alms, eating simply – actually serves to awaken the soul.
The human is a dynamic being on a mission, moving toward an aim. The aim is God, Paradise, our true home. We aren’t totally content because we aren’t home. We’ve created our own Shires: false, insular homes that stifle the journey toward our glorious destination.
God, through the Church, afflicts the flabby soul with Lenten asceticism (literally ‘exercise’) to change our trajectory – a shift from the limited joy of the Shire to the limitless joy of the crucified and risen Lord.
To reach our journey’s end – to enter this joy – there must be a shedding of a great many figurative handkerchiefs. 
Gandalf whispers the wisdom of the saints. (Tolkien was no stranger to the depths of monastic desert wisdom.) When he replies to Bilbo, “What on earth is the matter?”, the problem has already been addressed. It is those self-satisfying, fleeting things that hold us down to earth, preventing us from progressing on the journey, let alone reaching its end.
Time to be humbled. Time to accept our brokenness, in order to be made whole by the One Who can heal. Time to return home from exile. Lent is really that dramatic…and that wonderful.
Time to step into the desert – that seemingly barren place that is actually teeming with life, if we break from facing outward to discover the richness within. Time to go to the Mystical (Last) Supper; to Gethsemane; to Pilate's questioning; to the rejection of Truth in favor of keeping things comfortably the same; to Golgotha; to the empty tomb. We go truly, not symbolically. We go personally, not intellectually.
And we can’t bring everything for the journey. It’s too heavy. It weighs us down and hinders the journey.
So, we shed tasty food and drink. We shed mindless watching and scrolling. We shed excess from our bank accounts. We shed the busyness of work and play. We shed self-pandering to be more present. We shed unholy patterns of thinking and behaving. 
Why? Recent Orthodox convert and popular British writer, Paul Kingsnorth, says:
“The fast sharpens the feast. It counts down the days. It provides a communal experience – everyone in the Church is following the same rules together. And most of all, it trains the body and the mind to do without, in the service of focusing on something higher. 
What happens if you feast without fasting? What happens if your culture encourages you to feast every day, because your economy is predicated on endless, consumer-driven growth? Probably the same thing that happens if you decide that all borders, boundaries and limits, be they economic, social, sexual or cultural, must be torn down in the name of ‘freedom’. It’s like taking a child to a sweet shop and allowing him to eat anything he wants. For a while it’s fantastic, and then it isn’t. More, it turns out, is not actually better. More just makes you sick.”[1]
There can be no real feast – no reaching of the journey’s end – without the fast. The handkerchiefs must go if we are to commune with God and with the people around us, if we are to enter the otherworldly joy of the Resurrection.
And even if we ‘do’ everything – even if every handkerchief is discarded – repentance remains a gift from God. We can’t manufacture it. To upend our orientation depends entirely on God. So, we ‘do’ our asceticism with a hopeful prayer in mind: “God, break open my hardened heart, as only You can do.”
Bilbo chooses to join the dwarves, and in doing so, joins a story that appears not to be his own. It’s the dwarves who, through maddening self-desire, have lost the Lonely Mountain and its riches to the dragon Smaug. Bilbo has no skin in the game. 
Yet, in denying himself for the sake of something greater, he discovers his true self and the meaning of life. He joins himself to the universal human story, a story with Jesus Christ at the center. 
Bilbo encounters terrible dangers. He’s dismissed. He fails. He questions himself. He nearly loses his life on several occasions. The odds are stacked against him. But he endures. 
We too, if we’re willing to embrace the Lenten journey toward Pascha, will encounter struggle, sacrifice, pain. All this is part of resurrectional joy, for there is no resurrection without the cross. We will face various dragons, residing right within our sinful hearts. 
The stakes couldn’t be higher. But if we endure, like Bilbo, the reward could not be greater. We recover our humanity. We’re not just rational things looking to minimize suffering and maximize personal bliss. No, we’re fundamentally religious beings designed to worship: to sense the mystery of God, and to enter His joy; to move beyond our small worlds into the realm of God.