For many of us, the extent of our knowledge about Lent is:
- It leads to Easter.
- People “give something up.”
But Lent has a rich history and profound meaning for Christians. Digging into that history and meaning can make this spiritually significant season mean so much more to modern disciples.
Where did it come from?
In its earliest form, Lent was a period of prayer and fasting for converts who were preparing for baptism. By the 4th century, Lent was set as a 40-day fast. By the 5th century, it was established as a time of preparation for Easter. It was meant to be a time of penitence and self-denial. The English word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of spring.
What does it look like today?
Lent is the season of the Christian Year that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (lasting 40 days, not including Sundays). Many use this season to focus on prayer, simple living, and spiritual disciplines. Churches will recognize the season with a more contemplative tone in worship.
Purple is the traditional color associated with Lent. The deep purple focuses our attention on fasting and repentance. It is also the color of royalty and anticipates Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty.
Prayer and fasting are the recommended spiritual disciplines because both keep us constantly attentive to our need of God’s mercy and the call of Jesus to repent. The discipline also keeps us open to listening for God’s will for us as individuals and as a church.
When does it begin?
The beginning of Lent is marked by Ash Wednesday (this year, February 14).
Ash Wednesday emphasizes both our need for forgiveness and our human mortality. During our Ash Wednesday services, a minister will invite you to come forward and will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto your forehead. In biblical times, the imposition of ashes on one’s head was a way of publicly expressing awareness of one’s sin and repentance. Ashes were also a sign of mortality and purification. Oftentimes, the minister will say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday is an important way to begin the season of Lent because it points us to the climax of the Christian story. Lent ends in Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that demonstrates his triumph over death. We begin Lent by acknowledging our need and end it recognizing how God has met that need in Christ.
The cross and the empty tomb of Easter give us reason to welcome the season of Lent as an annual opportunity to repent, reset, and be thankful.
So how should I prepare?
- Make plans to attend all Lenten worship services so you have experienced the season in its fullness:
- Ash Wednesday (February 14)
- Palm Sunday (March 25)
- Maundy Thursday (March 29)
- Good Friday (March 30)
- Easter Sunday (April 1)
- Practice the means of grace (information will be available on the Web and in Sanctuary worship)
- Create space for God in your daily life: time, place, heart, and mindset. You can do this by:
- “Giving something up” or fasting from something you habitually do
- “Taking something on” as a new, meaningful practice or discipline
- Become aware of God’s presence and teaching in conversations, experiences, people, and challenges
May this season be a blessing to you as you listen for God’s grace in your life. Remember Jesus’ words: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Read this story and more in CONNECT Magazine | 2018 Issue 1
CONNECT Magazine is your source for the stories of our FUMCFW Faith Community — and how each fits in with our Healthy Plate Discipleship. Pick up your copy in the Main Office and Welcome Center or read it online.CONNECT Magazine