This past Wednesday was the beginning of Lent for Christians. The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday because the priest makes the sign of the cross on one’s forehead with these words. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” If one actually thinks of the meaning of these words, they are quite sobering. We all know that time here on earth is short, but how often do we really get up each morning and thank God for a new, wonderful, glorious day? I’m certain that someone reading that sentence is saying “You have no idea what my day is like…or what I am going through!” That is true, but God does. In these 40 days, we remember the suffering of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who understand all we face in life. He wept in the Garden before enduring crucifixion. One day our days will end. To the atheist, I say, “What if you are wrong and you find yourself standing before God. What then? I also would say that should you be right, I have had the most wonderful, love filled life sent from “God”.
Christians often miss these special 40 days before the Crucifixion and Easter, Christ’s Resurrection. Yet, these forty days are some of the most important in the holy times for a truly dedicated Christian. I would not limit this time of repentance to only Christians either, for I’m certain there are those who would like to find faith, but still has not done so. Perhaps even some reading this blog. Those who are not used to the Christian practice of receiving the ashes may have seen someone out on the street with a black smudge on the forehead. They may have wondered why their face was dirty, not knowing that it was the sign of the cross received on Ash Wednesday. Some people also choose to fast certain meals or give up some special treat during this time. This should not be something we announce, for we are told in Matthew 6:16-18 the following. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This is why some Christians wash off the ashes after they are received, so that it is something between them and God and not for the general public. Others also spend each of the 40 days reading special scriptures and prayers in private devotions.
The main thing for Christians during Lent are two things: self-reflection and repentance. I’ve often said that I do my best praying in the shower. Wherever your place to pray may be, use it to list all the sins and short-comings that you can think of and ask forgiveness. The Holy Scriptures tell us that “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:17 Thank God for that!
Short history of Lent and its Meaning:
(Author Norman Tanner) “The earliest mention of Lent in the history of the Church comes from the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The council of Nicaea is best known for the profession of faith – the ‘Nicene Creed’ – which is still recited in most parishes every Sunday immediately after the sermon. However, the council also issued twenty canons of a practical nature, dealing with various aspects of church life, and the fifth of these canons speaks of Lent. The word used for Lent in this fifth canon is tessarakonta (in the original Greek), which means ‘forty’. For the first time in recorded history, we have mention of this period of preparation for Easter as lasting forty days. Much earlier, Christians had introduced Easter Sunday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Soon afterwards, a period of two or three days preparation, specially commemorating Christ’s passion and death – the ‘Holy Week’ part of Lent today – had been adopted by various Christian communities. But the first mention of a preparatory period lasting the forty days comes from this fifth canon of Nicaea. The length of time was adopted in imitation of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2)
Around the world, Christians will flock to churches on at least two days: Christmas and Easter. In some cases, it is a requirement in order to be considered in “good standing” with the Church. Yes, we know that people are busy and God looks on the heart not on our record of attendance, but just the same these 40 days leading up to our most celebrated Holy Days should not be forgotten. After all, repentance and forgiveness is what keeps us in “good standing” with God. What is more important?
Therefore…therefore…and therefore….head to a secret place or to the shower …for it’s not just for cleaning the body, but for the soul. Don’t miss it.