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March 5, 2009
They look like ghosts, a little girl said. Ku Klux Klansmen, someone else offered, and one woman pointed out a striking similiarty between the draped cross over near the lecturn and that terrible news photo of a prisoner being tortured at Abu Ghraib.

Why cover the cross? Isn't the cross the main symbol of our faith?

Yes, it is. And that's why it is veiled during Lent in many churches. The forty days preceding Easter are a time of deliberate sensory and spiritual deprivation. We don't have flowers on the altar. We don't sing the Gloria in Excelsis -- we use something more somber, something asking for God's mercy. Vestments are a dark and sober purple, or sometimes a plain oatmeal color, which is barely a color at all. We don't say the Hebrew word "Alleluia". It is a season of experiencing what it was like to live before we knew the glorious ending of Jesus' story. We deprive ourselves of the knowledge for a season, by depriving our senses of the sight and sound of that joy.

It will all burst forth again soon. The crosses, draped even more painfully in blood-red during Holy Week, will emerge into the light of the risen Christ. We will hear "Alleluia" again at the end of the service -- not once, not twice, but three times. We will sing the Bells will ring. Our best vestments will reappear. There will be flowers again.

The church year has seasons as a way of helping us relive what we have inherited. We don't just learn about Jesus' life, death and rising. Insofar as a human being can do so, we seek to experience it, in our bodies, our hearing, our seeing -- everything.

It is snowing in New York as I write this. Cold, they tell me. Very cold, for early March. Deep in the ground, the lilies are entombed: brown and dry, seemingly dead. But they are not dead. They are just waiting. Something tiny and green is still alive inside them. One happy morning a few weeks hence, it will burst forth upon the earth, and we will remember everything.

The convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe will host a retreat with Barbara Crafton entitled "A Spiritual Life With Your Name On It" at beautiful Villa Pallazola near Rome from March 20-21. It is her only European retreat this year, and there are about five slots still available. To learn more, email the Rev'd. Clair Ullman at
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