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Love and Light

The Christian Festival of Lent

Before the major festivals in the Christian calendar (Christmas and Easter), there is a period of reflection, submission and meditation – a time of spiritual preparation to engage fully and humbly with the messages of each of these profoundly important events. These festivals form the focal points that express the essence of our faith and proclaim what we believe. Christmas, celebrates who Jesus is – the Son of God incarnate in our world and Easter, the glorious climax of God’s love and his saving purpose Jesus has achieved by raising Him from death. Easter proclaims God’s loving purpose of rescue and Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

In the forty day period preceding Easter Sunday, the period of fasting is known as Lent. The biblical inspiration for this season of the church is drawn from the story relayed to us through the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life. The Gospels, especially Luke, Matthew and Mark, tell the story of Jesus, after His baptism by John, being driven by the Spirit, into the Wilderness and there, he ate nothing, and in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan. This satanic encounter clears the priority of Jesus’ work as God’s anointed Messiah – in Latin he is called “The Christ”(the Anointed One). By this wilderness experience happening prior to the commencement of his public ministry, Jesus is determined that he wasn’t going to be governed by his own appetites and he was going to trust in the promise of God, rather than asking for proof of the rightness of what he was going to do in fulfilling his divine mission as a servant who would save His people.

Jesus’ ministry, eventually (about three and a half years from when he had gone into the wilderness for forty days), led to his eventual passion and crucifixion, where he totally submitted his life and destiny into God’s hands. He was led to the Cross by the sinful activities and decisions of ordinary men and women like you and me. In 2013, in the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches, Lent starts on February 13th, this date is known as Ash Wednesday and Lent ends on March 30th. This latter date falls on the Saturday between Good Friday, which is the day on which Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday. This Saturday is always the last day of Lent.

The day before Lent starts is called Shrove Tuesday in this country and it comes from an old English word meaning “to confess”. Shrove Tuesday has the traditional practice of cooking pancakes, this uses up the last fat to be consumed before Easter Sunday – it is a symbolic fasting time following Jesus. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lenten (the word is another old English word, which means “lengthen” due to the time of year, as the daylight in the northern hemisphere get longer), comes from the custom of expressing abject humility for our sin by marking ourselves with ashes. We then, like the Lord Jesus we follow, seek over Lent, to grow in spiritual maturity and discipline by, like Jesus, taming our appetites by abstaining or giving something we unnecessarily rely upon, up and meditating on what the coming seasons of Christ’s Passion (where we acknowledge His suffering and crucifixion) and Easter mean. This in turn should sharpen up the direction that we are called to pursue in serving Christ as his disciples.

There is considerable debate about how this Lent practice first became a formal part of the Church’s life but, it is very clear that in marking the period as a preparation for that which is to come - the Crucifixion and Resurrection then give us the opportunity to feel and identify with what it cost Jesus to be the Christ and in greater depth and feeling, to worship Him in every aspect of our lives.

Revd. Stephen Henderson