Lent is about preparation. Forty days: time for catechumens to prepare for baptism. Time to be ready for what is to come at the Easter vigil.
In Jesus’s time, preparation was needed, for baptism was quite an event. Imagine several hundred people striding down to the river to be baptized, all at one go. Now that is the pilgrim people of God. That is as clear a political statement, as manifest an eschatological act, as one could wish for.
But it seldom happens like that today. It’s not that the church’s liturgy doesn’t make a political statement: the very gathering together on a Sunday morning, let alone gestures like footwashing on Maundy Thursday, is deeply political. It’s not that the liturgy is not eschatological: the gathering of great and small at the altar, the offering up of different gifts and the receiving back of the bread and wine—these are deeply eschatological. But what has happened to baptism?
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).