In the midst of Lent – a Lent that includes more renunciations than any of us could have imagined – we come to a day that calls us to joy. Yes, joy. March 25, the feast of the Annunciation is not a Lenten Day, liturgically. It is a Solemnity, the highest rank of a feast in the calendar. And it is not a day of fasting. The liturgical color is white instead of the Lenten purple, and the Gloria is sung at Mass.
Why a day of joy in the midst of Lent, especially this Lent of 2020? What are we enjoined to celebrate today? And why might we want to follow the call to joy, especially in this time of sky-rocketing anxiety, illness, and suffering? The theological response to these questions is fairly straightforward. As Christians, we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation as the beginning of God’s deep incarnation: God enters our world in the deepest intimacy imaginable, namely by becoming one of us, a human being, born only to die and susceptible to illness, infection, and disease. I think there is much here, in this time of COVID-19, that can spell encouragement for us, on this journey through this valley of the shadow of death. And it is a hope that will sustain.
But joy? That seems a tall order. I have found myself having to pray for this, the gift of joy, for March 25. In praying, I have realized that the experience of joy on this feast day will not come about as a momentary surge of happiness or a feeling of giddy gladness. Rather, it will come about in an intentional turning to the ultimate source of all life and the final destiny of everything created. But how do we turn to that ultimate source, to God? We can only turn to God because God has first turned to us. And that, of course, is exactly where today’s feast becomes so important. God entered our world in deepest intimacy so as to open for us the way to turn back, again and again, to the source of all life, Godself.
So, in the midst of all the constraints and renunciations of Lent 2020, here is to a day that is not Lenten but golden and joyful, because it points the way to fullness of life. In whichever way you can mark this day – with a good meal? a piece of delightful chocolate? a glass of fine wine? – do it! Do it in celebration of God’s extravagant gift of self in the annunciation of the incarnation.
Featured image: Annunciation, Stefan Lochner, 15th century, Cologne.