From Lent to Easter: Ashes to Fire
We are now very much in the middle of Lent – the season of forty days and forty nights – when we prepare ourselves to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection again at Easter.
For much, although not all, of the Christian world, the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year was March 6. On Ash Wednesday, we received an ashen cross on our foreheads, reminding us of the prophets who put on sack cloth and ashes to humble themselves before God. Lent then continues for forty days. Sundays are not included in the count, since Sunday worship is always cause for celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, even during Lent. Lent ends at Easter, when the darkness of the tomb is replaced by the brightness of the resurrected Lord.
“…an ashen cross on our foreheads, reminding us of the prophets who put on sack cloth and ashes to humble themselves before God.”
“Forty” is almost always an important number in the Bible. It implies a large number. The Hebrews were traditionally said to have roamed the wilderness for forty years. Jesus was driven into the wilderness for forty days. He then spent forty hours in his tomb. So we observe Lent for forty days. (He was then with the Apostles after the resurrection for another forty days.
Lent is typically a time for prayer and self-denial. Many Christians do without a favorite food or activity during this time. Others increase their devotional activity. In the early Church, new believers were prepared for baptism and confirmation during Lent and egregious sinners were likewise prepared for reconciliation with the community.
Because people once took Lent very seriously and had few pleasures during the Lenten season, there were several celebrations immediately preceding Ash Wednesday. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” (in French, Mardi Gras) and people feast on that day. It is a tradition in the English-speaking world to eat pancakes, covered with butter and syrup, before embarking on the discipline of Lent. This probably has its origins in the need to use up rich foodstuffs before Lent began. In some countries, especially the United Kingdom, pancakes are not only eaten but also raced, tossed, and used as footballs.
The Tuesday before Lent is also called Shrove Tuesday. At one time, Shrove Tuesday was a day for confessing one’s sins in preparation for Lent and hearing expressions of forgiveness (prior, no doubt, to the pancake feast). This was called being “shriven,” so the day became Shrove Tuesday.
“During Lent, we prepare for the Easter celebration by contemplating our own lives and addressing the areas in which we believe ourselves to have fallen short.”
During Lent, we prepare for the Easter celebration by contemplating our own lives and addressing the areas in which we believe ourselves to have fallen short. This is why we always have the prayers of confession and pardon during Lent. In the Old Testament, “sin” was generally thought of as rebellion against God. By the time of the New Testament, the attitude was somewhat more positive. The New Testament Greek word for “sin” means “to miss the mark.” That is, it acknowledges that we want to do good but because of our human nature cannot, without our Lord’s help.
So in our prayers, we confess before God that we have fallen short of his standards, accept the blessed truth that we are forgiven, and seek help to do better. And because we are forgiven and still loved by God, Lent figures to be a time of rebirth and renewal. We can use it to commit to an ever closer walk with the God who loves us so much that he gives us his Son, again and again, for newness of life. Following our Wesleyan tradition, consider:
- A more active prayer life,
- More reading and study of the Bible,
- Public worship – every Sunday,
- Fasting and abstinence, and
- Sharing the Gospel with others.
Easter is the greatest day in the Church’s year, when we celebrate and affirm our Lord’s glorious resurrection. The Sundays in Easter, which, like Christmas, is a season, not a single Sunday, are given to exploring, celebrating and affirming the Lord’s appearances to his apostles after the Resurrection. Easter ends with the Day of Pentecost, the second most important day in the Church year, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.
And plan to worship at Salem Church throughout these Holy Days. Through March and into April, which this year includes the end of Lent and Holy Week, we shall have special worship. Palm Sunday, April 14, is always one of the year’s most dramatic and exciting services. On Maundy Thursday, April 18, we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday, April 19, commemorates his sacrificial death. Then on Easter Sunday, April 21, we shall have our usual sunrise (7:00 a.m.) and traditional (10:30 a.m.) services.