What is Lent?
Lent is 40 day fast that some Christians participate in leading up to the celebration of Easter. The 40 days of Lent and the idea of fasting will sound familiar if you’ve read the gospels; remember when Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and encountered Satan? Even in the early days of Christianity, though, going out into the desert with no food or water to be tempted wasn’t the norm. This period of fasting was originally a period of purification for those who wanted to be newly baptized or those who had sinned who wanted to be reaffirmed in the church.
In the modern church (at least for the branches of Christianity that still participate in Lent), Lent has become a time of simplifying and meditation. Church services get a little less extravagant, the word “Alleluia” is removed from worship, and the people themselves think about ways they can bring themselves closer to God. You might hear people saying that they are “giving up ___ for Lent.” I’ve known people to give up caffeine, chocolate, fast food, gossiping, Facebook, procrastinating, and some people cut out all meat during Lent. Lent doesn’t necessarily have to be about giving something up, though. People often decide to take something on, like praying at every meal, reading a book that will better them, doing a Bible study, or even committing to exercise. This isn’t just a second go at forgotten New Year’s resolutions; the idea is that you choose something that is getting in the way of you living your life with God at the center.
What does this have to do with the ashes on your face, B?
Ash Wednesday is the first day in the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned, blessed, and the ashes are imposed in the shape of a cross onto the foreheads. In the Episcopal tradition, the priest will usually say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” While not the cheeriest of celebrations in the church calendar, Ash Wednesday is a service to remind us of our mortality and the ashes are meant to be a sign of penitence as we enter into the season of fasting.
This is also why we have Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s one last opportunity to feast before the fast.
Ok, Bethany, so what are YOU doing for Lent this year?
This year, I’ve decided that I will do daily devotionals with my children. There are four of us in my family, and so I plan for us to say four things we are grateful for everyday. With three teenagers and the fast-paced nature of life, I think that taking time to be together and talk about gratitude will bring a holiness into our home.