Is Lent a burdensome cross to bear or a blessing of refocus?
For the last few weeks we have been emphasizing the observance of the Lenten season (the 40 days prior to Easter). Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (now just six days away, Feb. 14th) and continues until Easter (April 1st).
This will be a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is a time that is marked by fasting both from food and certain activities for the purpose of tuning your ear to hear the Holy Spirit more readily and spending more time communing with God.
Fasting is not a way to express sorrow about your sin. Though some traditions stress penance (inflicting punishment on yourself for having done wrong), our tradition is clear that penance is not necessary because of the rich grace and forgiveness which was extended to us through Jesus’ death. The purpose of fasting is for increased intimacy with God and building spiritual discipline (increased self control) that will extend far into the rest of the year. Studies show that it takes 66 days to form a new habit that is automatic, and 40 days of increased time with God will begin to get us on the road to a deeper life with Jesus. Some point to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness as the reason for the duration of Lent.
Western churches that observe Lent emphasize fasting for 40 days, with Sundays regarded as “feast days” to mark the resurrection of Jesus (for every Sunday is to be a celebration of Jesus’ conquering death). This means that some Christians will indulge in sweets, social media, TV, or other things they have chosen to fast only on the Sundays of this season.
The name “Lent” comes from the English word ‘to lengthen.’ Remember the days are getting longer and lengthening in the spring when we have this period of time.
Ash Wednesday was accepted as Christian practice at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It equates ashes with the practice of fasting (Esther 4, Job 42, Jonah 3 & Daniel 9). This day is supposed to represent grief, so the symbol of the cross in ash on your forehead is made. In many traditions the priest draws the cross on the forehead and says, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel, for dust you have come and to dust you will return.” These are reminders of the saving work of Jesus for us on the cross and of our own mortality.
The ash used to draw the crosses comes from the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). The ashes are mixed with olive oil to make a thick black paste. This not about making a show out of your faith, but a humble time of repentance and willingness to deny yourself, so that you can strengthen your faith.
Will you join us in making the Lenten season truly sacred and special? We will celebrate Ash Wednesday next week on Valentine’s Day at 6pm. A one hour service with an opportunity to receive ashes on your forehead will happen in the Dome. We will also be providing childcare from 6-7pm to help families. This time of worship, reflection, a short meditation, and ashes will help you “start” this period of Lent.
Mark your calendar. We believe God is going to lead us through this season with much grace and power!
There will be a handout for you to pick up on Sunday regarding Lent.