We are in the season of Lent in my Christian tradition even though growing up I had no idea what Lent was. As a child and youth I was an eclectic Christian at best. We attended United Brethren, Baptist, Christian and Methodist churches, wherever my dad liked the preacher. We moved a lot and lived in Tampa, Bradenton, Orlando and Winter Park. None of the churches I went to had any Lenten traditions. No sacrificing anything for Lent, no fish, no Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday, just Good Friday, Palm Sunday and Easter. I never attended a Good Friday service in those years, but I always made Palm Sunday and Easter. I always got at least a new shirt for Easter and often a suit growing up. Mom and my sister got new dresses and it was the only time I ever saw my mother or sister wear gloves to church.
Somewhere along the way, Lent crept into my awareness. I am sure it was before college and seminary, but it was in those years, exposed to more traditions that I began to explore Lent as a season of preparation for Easter. A member of our church recently asked me when Methodists began to make a bigger deal out of Lent because they didn’t remember it growing up. I realized that I couldn’t put my finger on an exact date, but I can remember an exact experience. In seminary, I attended Versailles UMC in Kentucky and went to a Maundy Thursday service led by Raymond W. Gibson, Jr. The service started like most but then, after the sermon we went into a Tenebrae service. Being unfamiliar with what to expect, I let the experience wash over me. We had a series of readings, songs and candles. After each song, a candle was extinguished and the lights were dimmed. At the last reading, there was a light above the preacher and the Christ Candle that I had only ever seen on Christmas Eve and when the pastor finished the reading he hid the Christ Candle and the church was in darkness. Only enough light was turned back on to safely exit and we did so in silence. Ever since that night, I have had a Tenebrae service on the Thursday before Easter.