Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

The Season of Lent

Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. The season begins with Ash Wednesday, when pastors mark the foreheads of Christians with ashes 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 we read the Psalms that foretell what would happen during that week.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, also called Sunday of the Passion, and continues through Holy Thursday (when Holy Communion was instituted at the Last Supper) and Good Friday, when Jesus was tried, crucified, and buried.

Because the Last Supper was celebrated during the Feast of the Passover, which is calculated on the phases of the moon, Easter is called a movable feast. Lent is scheduled backwards from Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. The forty days of fasting and penitence during Lent do not include Sundays. Christians always celebrate Sunday as the day Jesus rose from the dead, so it is never a day of fasting.

Many Northern Europeans celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday, mardi gras (French for Fat Tuesday, also called Shrove Tuesday), by eating up everything good in the house that medieval Christians believed was inappropriate to eat during Lent (eggs, butter, cream, meat). This celebration has expanded into all sorts of festivals all over the world, although most modern Christians do eat some - or all - of those foods during Lent.

Lent is a time of stripping down to essentials, as each Christian focuses on his or her individual relationship with God. It is a time when Christians remember our baptisms, when Jesus washed away our sins, giving us newness of life to celebrate in the triumph of Palm Sunday and the glory of Easter.

Because Lent is a time of letting go of the bondage of sin, it is also a time of celebrating the freedom from the bondage of slavery. At the Feast of the Passover, all Jews give thanks for their freedom from the captivity of the Egyptians.

We remember Moses, their leader, as we perform Out of Egypt.

And Christians give thanks for the freedom of all slaves in every culture everywhere when we sing Go Down, Moses (With One Voice 670).

The color of Lent is purple.
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