THE SEASON OF LENT
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian gospel, and Good Friday and Easter are two of the most significant celebrations of the Christian year. Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter. Just as we carefully prepare for big events in our personal lives, such as a wedding or house move, Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.
The practice of a forty-day preparation period began in the Christian church during the 3rd and 4th centuries. The number forty carries biblical significance based on the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness and Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness. The forty days of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday and continue through holy week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday), not counting Sundays (which are reserved for celebratory worship). In practice, many congregations choose to focus Sunday worship through the season of Lent on the themes of repentance and renewal.
Lent has historically included the instruction of persons for baptism and profession of faith on Easter Sunday; the calling back of those who have become estranged from the church; and efforts by all Christians to deepen their devotion, and readiness to mark the death and resurrection of their Saviour. Some Christians choose to fast during Lent ie they give up certain things. The intention is not to earn God’s favour – the Gospel assures us that all is grace – but rather to discipline our hearts and desires because of grace. Other Christians choose to engage in positive acts of mercy and generosity eg a useful resource is here https://www.chpublishing.co.uk/apps/live-lent Some begin a new daily Bible reading scheme to take them through the Gospel (try this one https://www.biblegateway.com/reading-plans/lent?version=NIV ). Maybe your Splinter Group could do this together.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. By the fourth century the Western church determined that the Lenten period of fasting and renewal should correspond to Christ’s forty-day fast (Matt. 4:2), and, by counting forty days back from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain “feast” days), arrived at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter. This year Grace Church Hackney will join us for an Ash Wednesday service on the 14th February at 8.00 pm. Do come.
The aim of Ash Wednesday worship is threefold: to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need of a saviour; to renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and in all of life; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin. Ash Wednesday worship, then, is filled with gospel truth. It is a witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ that this entails.
The imposition of ashes is often a central part of the worship service. Ashes have a long history in biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes or dust symbolize frailty or death (Gen. 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jon. 3:6). All these images are caught up in the church’s use of ashes as a symbol appropriate for Lent. In Christ’s passion we see God’s judgment on evil and in our penitence we express sorrow and repentance for our sins.
The ashes are often mixed with a little water and carried in a small dish. As the leader goes from worshipper to worshipper, or as worshippers come forward, the leader dips a finger in the moist ash and makes a cross on each person’s forehead (the “imposition”), saying words such as “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or, “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus Christ.”
[Much of the above material is “Reprinted by permission from The Worship Sourcebook, © 2004, CRC Publications.”]