Today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the beginning of the holy season Lent, that period of the church year in which many people think we are supposed to feel miserable. After all, just prior to Ash Wednesday is Fat Tuesday — Mardi Gras in French — a time of revelry and celebration, which stands in stark contrast to the observance that begins the next day. The fun stops. At least that is the popular misconception.
The word “Lent” originally meant “springtime,” or the lengthening of days, and because the church season always fell at this time of year, the name came to apply to the ecclesiastical observance, as well.
Our Lenten observance has changed over the centuries. The early church celebrated Lent only for a few days before Easter, and instead of a small smudge of ash on the forehead, the ashes were sprinkled over the person’s head. Over time, the length of the season grew until it was several weeks long. In the seventh century, the church set the period of Lent at forty days (excluding Sundays) in order to remind people of the duration of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that preceded the beginning of his earthly ministry.
In the early church, baptism was only performed on Easter Sunday —an entire year’s worth of converts to the faith would be baptized and brought into the church on that day. Lent was the time before Easter in which these converts would fast and pray, preparing themselves to be members of Christ’s church.
As years went by, the church began to baptize and confirm people on days other than Easter Sunday. Lent was no longer a time of preparation for these events, but it remained as a special time of prayer and fasting. After the Protestant Reformation, the discipline of Lent focused on personal introspection and repentance. Thus, as a way of preserving Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, the church leaders encouraged people to give up something they enjoyed during Lent.
Today, I find it a very fulfilling spiritual discipline to give up something that I enjoy, and to also commit to something important that I may have neglected, such as praying and Bible reading throughout the duration of Lent. This is why I am inviting you to join me in a Lenten devotional reading of C.S. Lewis’ “Preparing for Easter” that is on display at the Welcome Center in the narthex of the main sanctuary. I will also be sharing excerpts from the book every day through Lent on my Twitter (@LaxsonKip) if you’d like to follow along there.
Lent is the church season in which we prepare for Easter Sunday. It remains one of my most favorite seasons in the life of the church. It is a time to remember the temptation, the suffering, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a special time of prayer and reflection, of confession and self-sacrifice. Most of all, it is a time to ready ourselves for the sheer joy of Easter morning — it is a time to ready ourselves to meet the Risen Christ once again!
I hope you will plan to join me this evening at 7:00 p.m., our first Ash Wednesday in the new sanctuary. The chancel choir and our musicians will present very moving music appropriate for the season, I will share a message entitled “The Ash Heap of History,” and all will be invited to share in Holy Communion and receive the imposition of the ashes.
I am praying for you and your family as we join together to observe a Holy Lent.
P.S. In case you haven’t yet marked your calendar for Asbury’s services during Holy Week, here’s a reminder of how Asbury will be preparing for the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.