What is Lent?

(Some of this content is drawn from the 40 Acts website from Stewardship. It’s well worth a visit and a pause to consider their way of recognising and marking Lent.) For Charlie’s previous thoughts on this topic, you may want to visit last year’s post.

Lent is the six week period leading up to Easter. It’s one of the most important times of year for many Christians around the world, particularly those within the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, held at a similar level of importance to Advent – the build up to Christmas.

While Advent is a celebration and a time of great anticipation, Lent is more frequently seen as a time of solemn observance and preparation for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. From its start on Ash Wednesday until its conclusion on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for fasting or giving something up or abstinence. Just as we carefully prepare for events in our personal lives, as a wedding, or birthday; a commencement Lent invites us to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and body resurrection.

Nowadays there can be a lot of pressure on churches to grow – and therefore to be as appealing as possible. Lent is a useful corrective to this. It is a time of personal reflection, repentance and humility – rare activities in 21st Century Britain.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is always held 46 days (40 fasting days and 6 Sundays) before Easter Sunday. The day gets its name from the traditional blessing of the ashes taken after the burning of Palm branches (or crosses made from Palm leaves) from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. In some churches the ashes are used to draw a cross on the head of people to mark the beginning of their Lent fast. The drawing of a cross is often done while repeating the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). 

In our church, this service takes place at 10.30am on Ash Wednesday in St Mary’s Lutterworth. All are welcome to join us.

We have a service of Holy Communion with the Imposition of Ashes each year at this time to begin an important season in the life of the church. A visible physical mark is made on our foreheads as a reminder of an inward reality. This year, the previous Sunday service considered the words of Jesus from Matthew 6.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Jesus in Matthew 6:1

It’s important to consider that this is about the work of God’s Spirit on our internal workings – our heart. In fact, keeping secret what we’ve given up for Lent or what we’ve decided to do might be an important way of checking that we’re doing it for the right reasons.

So this Lent you may give something up, or you may adopt 40 Acts as a way of marking the season, but be sure that, whatever you commit to, you’re doing it to recognise the true and living God and our desperate need for his help and salvation.