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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Questions and Answers About Lent ~


Below is an excerpt from a web site that I found particularly interesting for several reasons:

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Lent & Ash Wednesday: Questions & Answers

What is Lent?
Lent is a 40-day period of penitence and spiritual self-examination which is observed by Christians worldwide.

When does Lent start? End?
Lent begins each year on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.

I count 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. How do you explain that?
Sundays are considered days of rejoicing and celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection. As a result, the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter are not included in the days of penitence and sorrow of the Lenten Season.

Why should I observe Lent? What purpose would it serve?
It is a call to prepare for Easter. During this period of serious reflection, you spend time in self-examination and spiritual redirection. It is a time for you to acknowledge your shortcomings and to seek forgiveness for where you have fallen in your faith. Lent offers you the opportunity to seek spiritual renewal through the practice of prayer and self-denial.

How can I apply it to my life?
Lent is usually observed by practicing some sort of self-denial. Some people skip a meal a day and give the money they would have spent on the meal to a needy individual or group. Whether it be giving up sweets, television, eating out or smoking, usually it is something that we don’t need but do or use habitually, something that will leave a “hole” in our lives. When we give up something for Lent, it is a reminder that we miss it and repent.” We can use the experience of our “desire” for what we gave up as a way to remind us that we often use things other than God to fill our emptiness.

How is Ash Wednesday observed by the church?
There are several traditions, but the most widespread observance is by using ashes (often from the burned palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration) to mark the forehead of a believer with the sign of a cross.

Why ashes?
The people of the Old Testament used ashes as a sign of mourning (Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, Jeremiah 6:26). Even today, ashes are considered a symbol of death and of nothingness. Ashes remind us of our helplessness and dependence on God. They remind us of our need to mourn our sinful nature, to feel contrition, and to repent so that we may receive God’s forgiveness. They are a symbol of sinfulness and of our commitment to spiritual renewal.

Why are ashes put on the forehead?
The Old Testament tells us that ashes were placed on people’s foreheads during times of fasting, prayer, repentance and remorse. (2 Samuel 13:19).

Why observe Ash Wednesday?
It’s an opportunity to gather with fellow believers to publicly acknowledge our sinful nature and to commit ourselves to a period of serious spiritual reflection.

I heard that Mardi Gras has something to do with Lent. How can that be?
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. For those who fasted by severely restricting their diets, the Tuesday before the Beginning of Lent was the last chance to “eat-up” until Easter. They celebrated with food in a big way. The secular world has seized upon this day as an excuse to “party hardy” . . . much like the commercialization of Christmas.

Is it necessary for me to celebrate Lent and Ash Wednesday?
No, not at all. You may set aside any time to reflect upon God. However, celebrating Lent and Ash Wednesday does provide a structured way to make sure that you take the time to reflect on your loving God and to assess your relationship with your Creator. And it does so at a time when millions of other Christians are doing the same.

The Season of Lent begins with the ashes that represent our sinfulness and death, but it ends with Easter, where, through Christ, God resurrects us and makes us new creatures. We recognize our absolute dependence on God, who breathes the Spirit into us . . . so that we may come to life. 

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This explanation of our Lent season is overtly informative for its content alone. The delightful "covert" aspect of it is how some Christians may perceive it, namely that it is written by a Roman Catholic or a representative of orthodox churches with historical ties to the RC Church, such as the Greek, Russian, Coptic and Eastern rite churches. These religious traditions practice the observance of the liturgical seasons and of the sacramental exercises that many of the reformation churches ignore or outright reject. However, what I quoted appears on the web site of a church in Troy, Virginia (US), the Beaver Dam Baptist Church. (Web site: beaverdambaptist.org .)

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many...But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Corinthians 12:14, 19-20). Do not the psalms declare, "How wonderful it is to the Lord that brothers dwell in harmony?"

In his same letter, the apostle Paul wrote, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Christ's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ". Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name" (1 Corinthians 1:10-15).

Of course, we all say we follow Christ. During this Lent season, I suggest we forgo giving up things and rather devote our hearts and minds to fostering the unity of the Body of Christ, be Him expressed and declared through the Catholic Church or through the thousands of Protestant denominations. The satanic forces against the Body of Christ are powerful. "Divide and conquer" has been a strategic military approach for thousands of years because it works. Naming just one example, the violent battle between the Irish Catholics and Protestants has been an ugly historical stain on the Body of Christ. St. Paul addressed this two thousand years ago. Are we such slow learners?

Perhaps, and evidently, we are. But our liturgical cycle of observance of the life of Christ brings us new hope and new opportunity. This is the season of repentance, of self-reflection, of making amends for our wayward thoughts and deeds. Let us begin with a devotion toward our own reconciliation. Only then can we present ourselves to the world as the Body of Christ, in unity, in His likeness. Let this direction be our sacrifice of Lent.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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Spiritual Resource Services  © March 30, 2006
 

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