Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday

Lent is a 40-day season of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season of Lent in the springtime is the life-giving
season. As trees shed their old leaves, so too this season invites us to shed the old to live a life full of newness.

Lent is a call to share in the suffering love of Jesus, especially by giving up sin and sinful attitudes and walking in the path of love and service. The season begins with Ash Wednesday, when the priest smears ash on the foreheads of Christians as a reminder that we are created from dust and to dust we shall return.

During Lent we follow Jesus from his adult ministry through his suffering during Holy Week and his crucifixion and death on Good Friday and glorious resurrection on Easter night. Lent is therefore a season of soul-searching and repentance.

Lent began as a preparation for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves. The 40 days of Lent echo the period of withdrawal of Jesus into the wilderness. The number 40 has several other Biblical references: Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God; Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb; it rained for a similar length of time in the days of Noah; the Hebrew people journeyed for 40 years travelling to the Promised Land 'Cannan'; Jonah gave the city of Nineveh 40 days time in which to repent. Jesus retreated into the desert where he fasted for 40 days and nights, and it was during this time that he was tempted by the devil.

Jesus overcame all three of Satan's temptations by citing scripture to the devil, at which point the devil left him, angels ministered to Jesus, and he began his ministry....

The Apostles fasted as they mourned the death of Jesus, Christians too traditionally fast during the annual commemoration of his burial. It is believed that Jesus lay for 40 hours in the tomb which led to the 40 hours of fasting that preceded the Easter celebrations in the early Church.

Lent is a time to let go of sins and also celebrate freedom from bondage. The focus of Lent was threefold: To prepare new converts for baptism through intensive classes and instruction, a time for Christians to review and renew their commitment to Christ, and it was a time for backsliders to be restored to the faith.

Since Lent is a time spent in intensive prayer and repentance before the cross of Calvary, a symbolic custom is to strip the sanctuary of all flowers, candles, and colours during Lent. The colour of Lent is purple. This custom helps us to turn inward and examine ourselves, even as it reminds us of the dark and colourless day when Jesus lay dead in the tomb to rise in glory on Easter Sunday.

Some common Lenten practices help us draw closer to God. Ashes remind us of our impermanence. Fasting enables self-discipline. Behaviours and attitudes change with reflection and repentance. The spirit of charity is encouraged. It is a time for prayer and contemplation, pondering the Stations of the Cross as a way of remembering Jesus's sufferings and a way to grow in appreciation of his sacrifice. It is a time to love unconditionally. These 40 days can help rejuvenate the spirit not just by fast, penance, alms-giving, and following some of the extrinsic self-sacrifices, but by observing intrinsic self-denial by overcoming desires. Let this season of Lent bring better understanding in us to enable us to change ourselves to transform our lives for the better.