Lent is a ceremonial observance that starts on Ash Wednesday and launches the 40 days of repentance, denial of self, and spiritual maturity that we know as the Season of Lent. The significance of the Lenten Season is important to everyone who is Christian because it promotes focus and time to reflect on Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross. The focus of the Lenten Season is on sincere meditation and observance of the suffering and the sacrifice that Jesus went through for us. In the Old Testament, the Israelites used a visually symbolic practice of using ashes on top of their heads and covering their bodies in order to show repentance and mourning. They did this for 40 days. As Christians today, our visible symbol is the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead.
The number 40 has great significance in the Bible. It is associated with phenomenal events such as: the great temptation experienced by Christ when He spent 40 days and 40 nights meditating and fasting in the wilderness. There was a forty day period from His resurrection to His ascension (Book of Acts). Also, in the Old Testament, this number is associated with the Exodus where God let the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their disobedience and their unbelief in Him. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain with God, and then came down with the Commandments. During the great flood, it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Spies were sent by Joshua to the land of Canaan where they stayed 40 days. Elijah traveled for 40 days to meet God at Mt. Sinai, and the Giant, Goliath, intimidated the Israelites for 40 days until David defeated him.
Although the Bible gives us no explanation of the use the number 40 or the distinctiveness of this particular time frame, the Israelites viewed 40 days as a period of probation and chastisement. If we take it in this frame, we must know that the most important thing during this Season of Lent is to focus on repentance of our sins and consecrating ourselves to God.
Even though the season of Lent is not a biblical command, it is a deeply spiritual practice that identifies us as willing Christians. It is not just an annual church practice. If you received ashes on your forehead in the form of a cross, it tells the world that you proclaim Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and our hearts are open and willing to embrace a holy, spiritual renewal that can only come through Him. Because He paid the price for our sins on the Cross and redeemed us with His blood, the least we can do is observe Him through love and repentance for forty days.
We have taken our first few steps into the Lenten season, traditionally a time of fasting, prayer, and reflection, leading up to the solemn events of Passion Week. During our Ash Wednesday service last week, I noted that we were moving from a time of self-indulgence, of stuffing ourselves with Phil’s delicious pancakes, (Shrove Tuesday on Wednesday) into Lent, a season of self-denial. We think of Lent as a time to give something up, that is, making some personal sacrifice in order to better understand the immense sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.
During Lent we also take a good long look at our lives and the way we live them. We try to assess how we are navigating our way through life. Lent is a time when we think about our sinfulness. No one is perfect; as St. Paul says, all have sinned. What is it that keeps us from a closer walk with our creator? Is there anything that stands between us and more loving relationships with others? Lent is very much about turning back to God, and making room in our lives for God.
Michael Brown has written: “Think of your soul as a shelf. It has only so much room. You can place whatever things you wish on the shelf, but only at the expense of other things for which there is not room. Too often the shelf is stocked with hatred, prejudice, revenge, envy, lust, selfishness, etc. But when those things take up our shelf space, no room is left for God and God’s will and love and purposes for
us.” Lent then, can be a time for soul-searching and for “shelf-cleaning.”
The late Peter Gomes has written that Lent is a time for “silence, study, and service.” The world is a noisy place; silence is a rare and precious thing. For us, silence can be the place in which we both seek and experience the presence of God. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the scriptures. Dr. Gomes suggests at least a fifteen minute period of silence each day.
He writes of study. An ambitious course of study and regular reading and ordered reflection helps us to make good use of the 40 days of Lent. And he writes of service. He notes that Lent is not private or personal. So, lest we become too private and self-absorbed in Lent, we should search for ways in which we might give time to some work or kindness which is not only for ourselves. Where can we do some good? Who needs our help? What can we do for others that will make a difference?
Good suggestions all. Simply put, Lent provides the means for us to slow down, quiet down, reflect on our lives, and attend to those parts of our lives we often neglect. I would also encourage us to attend worship each Sunday during the Lenten season, and to attend the special services of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. During those holy days, we will recall the depth of love Jesus has, and how far love was willing to go and why. I am convicted that sharing these moments of worship together will make our Easter celebration all the more meaningful and joyful. Come and worship!
The season of Lent is upon us, the season of forty days leading up to Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. The forty days refers to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism and the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert.
Lent brings with it a whole host of traditions and practices. For Christians of all kinds, these weeks are weeks of discipline and devotion. Lent is a time to consider what we need to release. What do we need to let go of? What will we “give up” for Lent? What has a hold on us to the degree that it keeps us from recognizing the love and grace of God? There was a hymn we sang in years gone by, “Turn Back, O Man, Forswear Thy Foolish Ways.” (forswear made spell-check crazy!) The truth is that we all have foolish ways that need reflection. So we take time for prayer and worship, reflecting on our lives and on how we live them.
Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of the Lenten Season and our journey with Jesus to the Cross. We will be observing that tradition with our brothers and sisters in Christ from First Baptist Silver Spring on March 1 in our MHBC sanctuary. We will begin the evening with a pancake supper in Bethany Hall. We encourage you to join us for this inspirational time of fellowship and worship.
We can also use the weeks of Lent, not only to “give up” something, but “to take on” something. A lawyer once asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered his question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you understand it?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded, “That is the right answer; DO that and you will live.”
As important as it may be to give up something, candy or smoking, or desserts for Lent, it may be equally helpful to DO something positive, or to take on something for Lent. We might take on meeting a need without anyone else knowing about it. We might take on financial support for an important ministry or cause. We might provide food for the hungry or clothing for the homeless. We could send an encouraging note, or make a call and let someone know how glad we are that they are in our lives. We could help a stranger, or lighten the load of a friend. There is no shortage of ministries or kindnesses that we might take on for Lent.
Giving up something for Lent is a tried and true Christian practice that reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us to show us how much God loves us. I suspect God would be perfectly fine with us if instead of giving up something for Lent, we used this season to take on something positive. Don’t you?
In Christ, Pastor Joel
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell