What is Lent anyway?
As Robert E. Webber points out, the season of Lent is foreign if not intimidating to most Protestants. Those of us who grew up in nondenominational churches would probably agree with this statement. At best, we are simply ignorant of the practice of celebrating the Christian seasons outside of Christmas and Easter, or at worst, we have been hurt by churches and therefore have a bad taste in our mouths when we think of the practices they followed. To the ignorant (myself included), I want to assert that ignorance need not be bad, as it can lead to learning. And to the hurt, I want to offer my condolences for your pain. The Bride of Christ should exist as a community that loves others, not hurts them. I hope that you find such a loving community in your home church.
The season of Lent need not be a foreign or intimidating concept to us; rather, it can be a part of a rich lifestyle that mirrors the life of Christ. In fact the whole ordering of the Christian seasons mirrors the life of Christ: Christmas celebrates his birth, Easter celebrates his resurrection, etc. Similarly, the season of Lent celebrates what is called the “Passion of Christ.” Specifically speaking of Christ, this phrase refers to his death, burial and resurrection; but to the Christian believer, this phrase becomes something to imitate. Lent becomes a time to put to death the sins that hold us back and to embrace the new life that is found in Christ. Therefore, Lent looks very similar to baptism: the point at which we say “yes” to Jesus and his community and symbolically die to our old self only to be raised again in new life.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (3/5 this year). Some Christian traditions hold special worship services on the evening of Ash Wednesday to prepare themselves for the next few weeks. Some Scriptures that could be read at this service are: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103; and 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; but especially important are Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; and Psalm 51. A key part of this service happens when the leader invites to come forward those who wish to receive ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. These ashes are made by burning the palm leaves used at the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday. When the Christian receives the ashes they are saying that they recognize their own mortality and that they wish to identify with Christ. The service ends with the Lord’s Supper and the passing of the peace (this is a contemporary “greet one another with a holy kiss” where the worshippers greet one another with a handshake or an embrace and say “The peace of the Lord be with you”).
Lent emphasizes fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Fasting to illustrate the discipline of turning away from sin, prayer to illustrate the experience of turning to God, and almsgiving to illustrate the virtue that we replace our sin with.
In closing are two Lenten prayers, one ancient and one more recent.
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust for power, and idle talk.
But give me rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to my servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; for thou art blessed unto ages of ages
(St. Ephrem the Syrian, 4th Century)
Almighty God, you alone can bring order into the unruly wills and affections of sinners: grant your people grace to love what you have commanded and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, 16th Century)
I encourage you to continue to learn about Lent by talking to Christians from a liturgical background or by reading books. One book that I found helpful was Ancient-Future Time by Robert E. Webber, a seminary professor and Evangelical Protestant.
is a theology student majoring in Psychology and Counseling at Ozark Christian College. He works in the library at OCC, helping students with research. He enjoys writing, reading, and listening to Gregorian monk chants in his spare time. Perhaps his favorite thing to do however is connecting people to the local church and seeing people grow a lifelong commitment to Christ and the community.