What is Lent?
- It’s a 40-day time of preparation for the Resurrection of Our Lord.
- These 40 Days do not include the Sundays. (That’s why we call them the Sundays in Lent, not of Lent.) Every Sunday celebrates our Lord’s resurrection, even the ones in Lent.
When did the 40-day observance begin?
- With the early church, when adults were instructed in the faith. They were taught the Creed and given training (2 Tim 3:16,17). They put off the old way of life they learned as pagans. They put on the new way of life that flows from being set free from sin’s control of your purpose, motives, attitudes and daily agenda.
- The new converts (Catechumen) were all baptized on Easter, at the Easter Vigil. This emphasized and celebrated the truth that in our baptism we are buried with Christ and raised with him to live a new life. It also prepared them for the “new life.”
- Each of the new converts (Catechumen) was paired with a believer and tested in the 40 days leading up to the Easter Vigil.
- When adult conversions were no longer the norm in the church, Lent became a 40-day period of preparation for all the baptized.
What are the disciplines of Lent?
- The disciplines of Lent were evangelically motivated (not done as church law) to prepare people for the new life – especially when it was not easy to be a Christian – both because of persecution and because of pagan temptations.
- A time to return to the power and promises of baptism that give us new life and call us to live in that new life.
- Fasting – disciplining your appetite – deals with the flesh or Old Self
- Alms Giving – charity – calls us to deal with the world with the love of Christ
- Prayer/meditation – focuses us on the word of God and growing closer to Him. Prayer is the one thing that keeps us from listening to the lies of the devil.
Should we “give up” something for Lent?
Lent presents a wonderful opportunity to renew, refresh, and reinforce our commitment to living out God’s will for our lives. If you’re new to the faith, Lent is a marvelous time to grow. Two possible Lenten options for consideration:
- Give something up for Lent. When we voluntarily put ourselves under such disciplines for 40 days (not just a quick 22 -28 days, the length of Advent), it’s like an annual boot camp for Christians to be renewed in our warfare against those things that would rob us of Jesus and the full life he came to give us. It’s important that we are motivated by the gospel, and can say “I’m not doing this to make God love me more” and “‘I’m doing this to let God’s liberating gospel reign in my life.“
- Add something spiritually positive to our daily lives for Lent. At Immanuel this year, we are challenging ourselves to take on something new…becoming involved with a “Living Lent” Bible Study.
So why the Ashes?
- The Scriptures talk about putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes, give up any claim to self-worth, acknowledging sin. Sin turns us into junk or garbage, ready to be cast out of God’s presence.
- When we see we are nothing on our own, then we see and long for the mercy of the Lord that saves.
- It is the confession of the believer who joins the Psalmist (130) in yearning for God’s mercy that we know is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22,23), the mercy we know we need to survive and be blessed every day. Genesis 18:27 – Abraham said “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes…” We are mortals who will return to dust because we are sinners. Sin has turned us into ashes.
Ash Wednesday – Imposition of Ashes
- Ash Wednesday begins Lent with this acknowledgment of our mortality and sin.
- Receiving ashes is a very profound action. It’s one thing to know sin is in your head, another to experience sin on your head.
Where do the Ashes come from?
Tradition instructs us to burn the branches from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday. At Immanuel, we save the branches and burn them the day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday. The ashes are mixed with olive oil.
But why 40 days?
- Jesus was tempted for 40 days.
- The flood started with 40 days and 40 nights of deluging water.
- Moses was on the mountain 40 days.
- Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
- This number comes up in the Bible many times.
- Four is the number of the earth. (In Revelation it can be creation or it can be the fallen world.) 10 is the number of completeness. So 40 is a “complete time to deal with the world.”