How is it with your soul? Christians around the world will be challenged to wrestle with this question during the season of Lent. Lent, from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring, is the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading to Easter Sunday. It is a time of personal reflection and devotion, in which we examine our relationship with God as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In 2013, Lent will last from February 13 – March 30.
Lent follows in the Jewish tradition of having a period of preparation before major religious observances. The 40 day length reflects the biblical examples of forty days of fasting from food that were a common part of close encounters with God in the Bible. Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Elijah fasted for 40 days on the journey to Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, fasted for 40 days before being tempted by the devil in the wilderness and then starting His public ministry (Matthew 4:2).
Many Christians choose to abstain from certain activities during Lent, specifically something that will be a sacrifice for them. While not always true biblical fasting from food, it is a reminder of the 40 day fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus who lived on a reduced diet during their period of personal reflection and devotion. In our abstinence, we are to spend our freed up time with God. When we crave what we gave up, we can remember what Jesus gave up for us. We also are to examine the barriers that come between us and God and each other, and how we might permanently get rid of them with help from the Holy Spirit.
Part of the Lenten tradition is to be more intentional in spiritual practices such as reading the Bible, praying, doing mission work, et cetera.
Some key days in the Lenten season include:
Ash Wednesday: The first day of Lent (2/13/13). Pastors burn the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, bless the ashes, and use them to mark a cross on the foreheads of worshippers stating the words from Genesis 3:19, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are worn throughout the day as a symbol of sorrow for sins. In biblical times sprinkling oneself with ashes was a sign of repentance, i.e. turning away from our sin. Lent begins with our humility before God with the mark of ashes.
Palm Sunday: The last Sunday of Lent (3/24/13). Worshippers, especially children, are given palm branches as a reminder of the people who stood along the road when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. The people laid the palm branches on the road, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:8-9). Hosanna means save, we pray.
Maundy Thursday: The Thursday before Easter (3/28/13). Worshippers celebrate the Last Supper in which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The word Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, which means commandment. Jesus commanded His disciples to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:14-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). On the same night as the Lord’s Supper, Jesus also gave a new command for His disciples to love one another as He loved them (John 13:34).
Good Friday: The Friday before Easter (3/29/13) is the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion. Why do we call this day in which our Lord and Savior died good? Jesus’ death is tied to His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we now have the opportunity to be restored into a right relationship with God, be forgiven of our sins, and receive eternal life in Heaven. We can receive all of this when we believe in what Jesus did, confess and turn away from our sin, and ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. Jesus offers us wonderful gifts through His grace. We need only accept them. Thus, God brought enormous amounts of good out of the evil of the crucifixion.
Easter Sunday: The Sunday after the last day of Lent (3/31/13). Worshippers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the consequent opportunity to receive salvation from sin, death, and hell. Many Christians celebrate early in the morning at sunrise (check out Luke 24).
At Sharon, we will have worship services on all of the special Lenten days listed above. How you spend your time during Lent is up to you. Are you up for some soul searching? For spending additional time with God? How is it with your soul?