"Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation, that we may show forth your glory in the world. By the cross and passion of your Son, our Savior, bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”
-ELW pg. 254
This month we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday on February 14th. Lent is a time of repentance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the joy and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning. The season is 40 days long (not including Sundays) and is marked with several special worship experiences, including Ash Wednesday, mid-week services, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. As we prepare for Lent I would like to share some thoughts about the significance and symbolism of the season.
What is Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday?
Many Christians observe the discipline of fasting or abstaining from indulgent foods, beverages, or lifestyles during Lent. As a way to reduce the temptation to indulge during Lent, different cultures started the tradition of cleaning out the cupboards and having festivals the day before Ash Wednesday. Many of the food items traditionally prepared on Fat Tuesday contain sugar, an ingredient often abstained from during Lent.
Why are we marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday?
The season of Lent begins with our confession of sin, and we are reminded of our mortality. When ash crosses are imposed on our foreheads we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These crosses also help us recall to mind Paul’s words in Romans 6:3-5: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
What does a focus on repentance, prayer, and fasting mean for us during Lent?
There is no one particular way Christians are “required” to observe the Lenten season, but all are encouraged to pursue a meaningful discipline that will help them grow more closely to God and in community with others. Some Christians devote themselves to praying more regularly, participating in service projects, fasting from specific foods or lifestyle decisions, attending worship more regularly, or volunteering their time to help others. Whether you choose to give up something for Lent or start a new discipline, remember that the intention is to glorify God through your words or actions.
Why does Lent last for 40 days?
The number 40 in the Bible appears in stories of great hardship followed by a blessing from God. The flood in the story of Noah lasted 40 days before a refreshed creation was revealed by God. Moses spent 40 days in the darkness of a cloud on Mt. Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before arriving to the Promised Land. After being baptized, Jesus spent 40 days being tempted by Satan before prevailing in the end. The 40 days of Lent are likewise intended for us to reflect on the reality of our sinful nature before hearing the good news that we have been raised to new life in Christ.
Why do we wave palm leaves on Palm Sunday?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before his death, many welcomed him with great joy by waving palm branches pulled from the trees along the street and by laying their cloaks on the road. Jesus knew, however, that this would be his last trip to Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant arrival in the same way while also acknowledging the somber reality to come. The palms we wave this year will become the ashes we wear on our foreheads next Ash Wednesday.
What is the Triduum?
Triduum is a Latin word meaning “three days.” In the liturgical calendar, the Triduum is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion. Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Holy Saturday, or the Vigil of Easter, recalls the absence of Christ and our hope in the promise of the resurrection.
Why does the date of Easter change every year?
For several generations after Jesus’ time on earth, it was illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. However, this all changed after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and decriminalized practicing the faith in the year 313 AD. Shortly afterwards, in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea was convened to unite the many existing branches of the church in one common faith. Among other things, this council composed the Nicene Creed and established the day Easter would be observed. Since then, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. This formula was chosen because it closely corresponds with the Jewish festival of Passover, which begins at the first full moon after the spring equinox. It was during Passover that Jesus was arrested, crucified, buried, and resurrected.
Blessings to you as we begin the season of Lent. I pray this will be a meaningful time of reflection and prayer for you as we prepare for the good news of everlasting, abundant life in Christ this Easter. I look forward to welcoming you to our mid-week and Holy Week services in the coming weeks.