As Easter approaches, many churches observe the season of Lent. The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word for spring, and originally referred to the “lengthening” of days in springtime. It is during these lengthening days leading up to Easter that Lent is celebrated.
Lent is a season of penitence for sin. It is sometimes accompanied by fasting, or by giving up something as a token of penitence. Lent begins 6 weeks before Easter, on Ash Wednesday (March 5). In the early church, ashes from the burning of the previous Easter season’s palm branches were placed on the heads of worshippers, as a symbol of their penitence.
During Lent, baptismal candidates in the early church–who already had had three years of instruction–underwent a final 6 to 12-week period of preparation leading to baptism on Easter Sunday. They prayed, fasted, underwent rites of exorcism, and were taught the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The entire faith community prayed and fasted with them.
In the early church, Lent also was a time for the reconciliation of those who, by reason of grave sin, had been excluded from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Lent emphasized that believers needed the ongoing support and care of the Christian community if they were to be able to live out their faithfulness in the world.
The traditional color of Lent is violet, appropriate for a time of self-examination, confession, and penitence. Like Advent, Lent can be a time when we prepare ourselves for the most important of all Christian celebrations–Easter, when Jesus was raised from the dead. Lent can also be the time for us to examine ourselves spiritually and seek renewal. It can be the season for us to confess our sins, to symbolize our penance by a personal sacrifice, to be reconciled with those from whom we have fallen away or who have drifted from our church, to ponder anew the death of Christ for our sins, to prepare to meet our risen Lord in the glorious celebration of Easter, and to recommit ourselves to him and the body which emerged from his death and resurrection, the church.
In our morning worship services during the 5 Sundays of Lent, which this year begin on March 9, we will follow a Lenten theme, “Encountering God: what have we witnessed?” May this Lenten season be a time for us to examine ourselves and to discover afresh the spirit of the risen Christ.