Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season kept by millions and millions of Christians around the world. This season has a bad reputation. Too many people think of Lent merely as a time for intentional misery. People give up chocolate or stop watching a favorite TV show or some other form of self-inflicted hardship. But there’s more to Lent than meets the eye.
The season of Lent began almost 2,000 years ago primarily as a time to prepare for Easter. Those who were to be baptized were prepared during this time. In the early centuries of the church, those who committed grievous sins were separated from the body of the faithful. During Lent, they could make amends and be restored to the church.
As we dig into Lent, we discover that the foundation of the season is built on deep joy. Making amends is hard work, but the resulting reconciliation is an occasion for true gladness.
The Bible teaches us again and again that there’s always a second or third or hundredth chance to turn to God. And each time we turn to God, there is rejoicing in heaven. So if Lent helps us find our way to God again, there is gladness in our hearts and in heaven.
WHAT IS ASH WEDNESDAY? EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FIRST DAY OF LENT
You may wonder how Lent got to be the way it is today. This season invites us to cast aside the things that keep us from following Jesus, and to embrace those things that help us along our journey.
So in Lent, I might give something up not to make myself miserable, but rather to take away a distraction from what is truly important. I might also give something up if this act helps me realize that I’m dependent on God along and not on chocolate, or coffee, or TV. Misery for its own sake should not be the point.
Lent is also about taking things on. You might like to spend a little more time reading and studying the Bible. Maybe you’ll read one of the Gospels or some other part of the Bible. Lent is also a great time to work on our habits of prayer. Scripture and prayer help us on our journey as followers of Jesus, so that’s why we might take something on.
I wish we could rebrand Lent. Maybe someone will come up with an ad campaign to help us all see that Lent is, actually, the opposite of miserable. We can enjoy the gift of a whole season to focus on turning to Jesus, and nothing could be more joyful than that!
Part of Lent is taking an honest look at ourselves – what we have done wrong or ways we can use the gifts God has given us. A brutally honest self-examination is not very fun, but the Good News is that God loves us even when we make mistakes and offers us a path to start over. We begin by saying we’re sorry, and then we make amends. It’s not easy, but this grace-filled work can help us see that there’s hope for us and for our world.
As always, the first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. That’s today.
Not surprisingly, the distinguishing feature of Ash Wednesday is the imposition of ashes. Small ashen crosses are drawn on the foreheads of worshipers as the priest says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s a solemn moment.
This symbol of the cross on our foreheads reminds us Christians that we are marked as Christ’s. The symbol of dusty ashes also reminds us that this earthly life is brief. All of humanity has one thing in common: one day we will all die. We will all turn to dust.
But this reminder isn’t meant to terrorize us. Instead, it is an invitation to use the gift of this life well. God has given us so many blessings, including life itself. How shall we use these gifts?
Maybe you’ve never tried to observe into Lent before. It’s never too late! Find a church that observes Ash Wednesday today, if you can. Hear the call to change, to renew. Receive the reminder that earthly things do not save us.
Then throughout the season, I encourage you to read some scripture. You could read any of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The psalms are also wonderful testimonies of God’s grace and mercy, and you could read some or all of the psalms.
Try to pray at least once every day. If you’re not sure what words to say, you can find prayers already written. Or you can just talk to God and say what’s on your mind and in your heart.
May your Lenten journey be blessed with the deep joy of turning to God.
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