Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer. ~ 1978 Book of Common Prayer
Today is Ash Wednesday. Today, we begin the season of Lent – a 40-day preparation for and pilgrimage towards the Holy Triduum (the three days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday) – where we celebrate Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
During Lent, we are especially reminded of the divisive and destructive nature of sin – of the ways in which it dilutes, distracts, and outright opposes loving relationship with God, our neighbours, and creation. Through the illumination and power of the Spirit, we are invited to a vigorous time of struggle against temptation and sin – reminiscent of the Israelites’ 40 days in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert – that we may be led more fully into the life and joy set before us.
This life and joy is the real theme of the season. The English word “Lent” comes from the Old English word lencten, which means “lengthen,” and refers to the time in spring when daylight begins to lengthen. We consider, struggle with, and repent of our sin because God is making all things – including us – new. The glorious daylight of his kingdom is coming and Lent is a way for us to respond to and participate in this exciting renewal.
Christians throughout history have taken on several practices during Lent in order to facilitate this renewal. I commend the following to you as concrete rhythms through which you may more fully enter the heart of the season. May the Father’s love, Jesus’ truth and grace, and the Spirit’s conviction and comfort be with you.
- Examination and Repentance
- With his help, ask God where have you sinned against him in thought, word, and deed, by what you have done, and by what you have left undone? Where have you not loved him with your whole heart? Where have you not loved your neighbour as yourself?
- Trusting in his immeasurable kindness and unquestionable grace, ask God for forgiveness and mercy.
- Ask God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen you in all goodnesss that you may be led in the way of life everlasting.
- Prayer, Fasting, and Generosity
- Fasting is a form of self-denial whereby we voluntarily set aside something for a time in order to intensify attention to and awareness of God (this attention and awareness is prayer). The things we are most reluctant to set aside are the very things that probably get in the way our life with God.
- Fasting is a helpful, practical way to focus prayer and realize that God – not food, Facebook, friends, or what have you – is the real source of all pleasure, goodness, and satisfaction.
- In tandem with fasting, Christians have often given special attention to generosity (“almsgiving”) during Lent as a way to avoid self-absorption and to inspire self-giving in love and service to others (e.g. fasting from food might give you more money to share with those who don’t have as much food).
- The Word of God
- Hearing, reading, and meditating on the scripture is customary for Lent.
- There are a number of Lent devotionals and resources available online; here are some that I’ve found particularly helpful for daily prayer: