Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Growing up in a non-denominational church, the concept of Ash Wednesday and Lent have always intrigued me. It wasn't until about 17 years ago while I was attending a small Presbyterian church that I observed Lent. Participating in their Ash Wednesday service was actually very special; being surrounded by my faith community, meditating and reflecting on this season of preparation and repentance, and then bravely making my way to the front of the (very traditional) altar; the pastor dressed up in robes, dipping his finger in ashes, and then on my forehead, forming the mark of an abstract cross. The amazement I felt looking around in the light-filled sanctuary at all the others with their black smudges. I felt a sense of belonging and community. 

It was a beautiful service, but I didn't truly know what Lent was about. 

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. "Lent" is latin for "fortieth". In the Bible, the number "40" is highly symbolic. This number is present in the story of Noah's Ark, Moses' time on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments, the Israelites  wandering in the wilderness, or Jesus' time of fasting and temptation, you will note these all coincide with forty.  Forty is often symbolically used to denote a time of testing, trial and preparation. By participating in mediation and reflection of the death and resurrection of Christ, the hope is that we will use this 40 days to grow closer to Christ, and to more fully embrace and appreciate the sacrifice,  joy and celebration of Easter. Lent is a journey. 

Traditionally, people give up something for lent, usually a bad habit that can draw one's attention away from Christ. According to a Christianity Today article that lists the top 100 things people gave up for lent in 2012, , the leading 6 things people give up for Lent are: twitter, chocolate, swearing, alcohol, soda and facebook. (I don't know which would be harder for me: to give up soda or facebook!) 

A word of caution: giving up soda, coffee, or whatever you choose won't necessarily draw you closer to Christ.  2 years ago I gave up diet Coke for 40 days. (46 days actually..... the 40 days of Lent actually don't count Sundays; technically you are allowed to indulge on Sunday) and, though it was a feat of self-discipline and garnered a lot of attention from my friends (if you know me, you know that my diet Coke consumption is nearly an addiction), that's all it really did. So focused on meeting this goal, I missed out on the true reason for observing Lent. I'd have been better off not giving diet coke up, but instead adding a time of reflection, prayer and reading. 

Lent is not only a time of preparation and repentance, but also of reflection, gratitude and joy. We know the Story. We know that Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, even in times of temptation. We know that Jesus gave up his kingly comforts to leave heaven and to come and live plainly among us, to become one of us. We know that he poured out his love for us to the point of an ugly, painful death on a cross, taking upon His perfect body the sins of the world. Yours. Mine. He truly suffered. But the glorious part is the resurrection! Because of His life and obedience to death, He has redeemed us. He is making us new. He has saved us. 

Regardless of if you choose to fast or give up diet coke, coffee, etc I invite you to weep, wonder and draw close to Jesus this Lenten season. May this be a sweet time for us as we consciously reflect on the amazing sacrifice, goodness  and glory of our God..... that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:7) 

Here's a link from The Gospel Coalition to a wonderful devotional guide  that beautifully explains Lent and invites you to deepen your own journey. It contains daily Scripture readings, reflections, questions and prayers. It is broken up into 6 week 'themes' - starting with repentance, humility, suffering, lament, sacrifice, death and of course, Easter Sunday. I highly encourage you to use this free resource, Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent  either individually, with your family, or with a friend. 

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