Lent is a season of the Christian Year where millions of Christians, worldwide,
focus on simple living, prayer, and maybe even fasting, in order to grow closer to God.
When is Lent?
It's the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays, and begins on Ash Wednesday. We exclude Sundays because every Sabbath is like a “little” Easter. This year it's from February 14 (Ash Wednesday) to March 31 (Holy Saturday). Easter Sunday is April 1st – No fooling!
What is “Shrove Tuesday?”
The Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday is also known as Shrove It is sometimes referred to as "Shrovetide" in England, and can be traced back to the first century. It was originally observed as a day of confession and penitence in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent. Today, Shrove Tuesday is primarily observed among Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists. The word shrove is past tense of shrive, a verb meaning “to go to confession and get absolved of sin.”
However, in the past few centuries, Shrove Tuesday has turned into more of a day of feasting in preparation for the fasting that is to occur during Lent. The feasting aspect of Shrove Tuesday originated due to the need to get rid of the foods/ingredients that are restricted during the Lenten fasting, such as sugar, leavened flour, eggs, etc. The need to use up these ingredients has resulted in Shrove Tuesday also becoming known as “Pancake Tuesday”.
So the real beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday?
Yes. Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, usually begins with a service where we recognize our mortality, repent of our sins, and return to our loving God. We recognize life as a precious gift from God, and “re-turn” our lives towards Jesus Christ. We may make resolutions and commit to change our lives over the next forty days so that we might be more like Christ. In an Ash Wednesday service, a priest marks the sign of the cross on a person's forehead with ashes, accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are from dust, and to dust you shall return”.
In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/ dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
So what is LENT?
At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. Where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. During his time there he was tempted by Satan and found clarity and strength to resist temptation. Afterwards, he was ready to begin his ministry.
Why "DO" Lent? How do I start?
Are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose or passion? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of classes, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol, too many activities or other irrelevant things. We run away from life and from God.
Lent is a great time to "repent" -- to “re-turn” to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It's a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. You might try one of these practices for Lent:
THINGS YOU CAN TRY FOR THE LENTEN SEASON (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
1. Try an electronic fast. Give up all things electronic for one day, or even a few hours every week. Use the time to read & pray.
2. Start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, hear an ambulance, or check your e-mail. Try saying a brief prayer for someone, before you call or text them.
3. Read one chapter in the Bible each day. Luke is a good book to start with. The Psalms are set up on a 30-day reading cycle, mornings & evenings.
4. Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it (maybe even yourself.)
5. If you do decide to give something up for Lent, keep track of what you would have spent and donate it to a local charity, or put it in the “Red Bowl” collection.
6. Create a daily quiet time. Try to spend 10 minutes a day in silence and prayer.
7. Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter/email each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way.
8. Be kind to someone each day.
9. Pray for others you see each day, especially those who look as if they might be struggling.
10. Participate in the Lenten program that Fr. Wes has worked so hard to prepare (I know, “Pathetic” attempt to guilt everyone-but I did make it #10).