Tag Archives: repentance

What is Lent?

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lent

Lent is the 40 day journey (excluding Sundays) set aside in the church calendar in preparation for Easter. The time spent during this period is to be devoted to prayer, repentance, and self -reflection of one’s life. Although not every church or denomination observes Lent, many Christians choose to observe this season as a way to keep their focus and shift their thoughts on the forthcoming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is not specifically mentioned in scriptures and therefore is not a command or requirement.

The rules for fasting during the Lent season vary from denomination and geographical location. Generally, those who fast during the Lent season, fast six days a week over the course of six weeks. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent and was instituted to bring the exact number of fasting days before Easter to 40. The types of food and drink people fast from also vary but generally include meat, animal products, and soda. In some religions, the fasting modifications have relaxed drastically to make the process more simple and easy. Today though, Christians are still encouraged to give up something for Lent as a form of self-denial.

Another, less popular, Lent tradition is to limit your meals to just one per day. Traditionally, this meal would be eaten in the evening or at 3pm and should be void of meats and dairy. The absence of dairy products led to the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday) and the blessing of the Easter eggs. The Lent practices for fasting have evolved overtime to allow for additional meals for strength as well as eating fish, other meats, and dairy.

Does the number 40 sound familiar? The number 40 holds special significance for Christians. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai in preparation to receive the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights before the Lord appeared to him on the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). And the most importantly, Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness fasting while continually being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:2). Ash Wednesday also symbolizes the beginning of Jesus’ 40 day fasting and prayer while in the wilderness.

The choice to observe Lent should be a personal decision. When deciding what to give up for Lent, do so with a grateful and humble heart. Don’t give up something that doesn’t take effort or act like a Pharisee and look for loopholes in the guidelines. Fasting without the desire to renew your relationship with Christ is a form of blasphemy. Whether you fast from something small, give up your meals during the day, or add something to your schedule during this season, the effects of atonement and self-discipline will astound you and your relationship with our Savior will forever be changed.

While the fasting practices have changed over the years, the intent for the Lent season has remained the same – to repent of your personal sins, to renew your faith and commitment to the Church, and to prepare your heart for the return of Jesus Christ. How do you strengthen your relationship with Christ during the Lent season?

Here are some great ways for your family to celebrate Lent together:

  • Begin a Lenten devotional that accommodates the whole family.
  • Read your Bible and be intentional about memorizing scriptures.
  • Simplify your schedules and eliminate luxuries.
  • Serve others with the hope of sharing Christ.
  • Replace urges with time spent in prayer.
  • Walk humbly and keep your focus on Jesus.  Don’t publicize your Lent practices and bring the attention on yourself.  This time is about reflection on Christ, not your personal accomplishments.

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What is Ash Wednesday?

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ash wednesdayAsh Wednesday celebrates the beginning of the Lent season, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday. This day is celebrated on the seventh Wednesday leading up to Easter and follows Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday).   This season is meant to spend time reflecting on your personal life and penance for your sins.  The 40 day Lenten journey leads us to the ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ’s resurrection and atonement for all of man’s sins.

The Ash Wednesday ceremony, originally called dies cerinum which means the day of ashes, dates back to the 8th century.  But the season of “repentance” dates back to biblical times.  In Leviticus 16:34, the Lord established an annual day of repentance for the Israelites saying, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”  In the old tradition, those offenders who had committed grievous sins would come before the priest wearing sackcloth.  Wearing rough material or animal hair was meant to show an outward demonstration of an inward sorrow and shame.  The priest would then sprinkle ashes on their head and bless them.  They were expected to spend the next 40 days in penance and reconciliation and would return to the priest on Maundy Thursday for their first communion following their repentance.

Christians today have been blessed with the blood of Jesus Christ who made the greatest atonement for our sins.  However, many Christians continue the tradition with a time of fasting and prayer.  We spend this time of year bringing our hearts back in accordance with the will of God and giving thanks for the atonement made by Jesus Christ.

During an Ash Wednesday observance service, the cross is marked in ashes to the forehead of each church member to signify an inward repentance.  This process is meant to humble our hearts and remind us of the sacrifices made for our eternal life with Christ.  The service brings our focus back to the mission of the Church and the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.  It is encouraged to spend time reflecting on the last year of your life and giving a greater commitment to God and the Church.

The ashes are a symbol of man’s mortality and remind us that life is not guaranteed. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us, “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”   Traditionally, the ashes used in an Ash Wednesday ceremony come from burning the palm branches used in the Easter service the previous year.  The ashes are blessed with holy water and rest with burning incense to create a pleasant scent until the next Ash Wednesday service. 

Because Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, Christians are free to observe this time as they desire.  The most popular method for celebration is fasting, or giving something up that would be difficult during the Lent season.  Others add an activity such as a daily devotional.  Both are great methods that lead you constantly back to the Lord, reminding us of our need for repentance and the need for our Savior.  Any activity chosen during this season is meaningless if not done with the intent for spiritual renewal and repentance.

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You might also like:
1. What is Lent?
2. Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?