As a little girl I went to a Presbyterian Sunday School and was greatly influenced by the Scripture Union movement. I helped at a holiday club at the Baptist Church and was confirmed in the Methodist Church. Being spiritually formed by these churches, I was taught about Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost but it was not until much later in life that I learned about Ash Wednesday and Lent. It was not a well-known ‘thing’ in our Church.
As a child, I had some Catholic friends, and I was fascinated by their discussions about ‘what they were going to give up for Lent.’ I did not really understand why they were going to give up something or how they made the decision about what to give up, but it sounded quite heroic anyway. It seemed to be only something that Catholics did, as I was never asked about what I was going to give up. In some ways I was envious of them belonging to something that asked them to do something so grown up and responsible for Jesus, but on the other hand quite relieved that I did not have to give up something that was especially important to me, because that would be awfully hard.
I don’t remember when my Church began mentioning Lent and having Ash Wednesday services, but since the earliest times of the Christian Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.
Of course, the number ‘40’ has always had special spiritual significance, particularly Jesus’s time of fasting and praying in the desert before he began his public ministry (Matthew 4:2) and so the usual time observed for Lent is 40 days from Ash Wednesday (not including Sundays.)
Trevor Hudson in his book, ‘Pauses for Lent’ writes, “Those of us who have not been brought up in the Catholic or Anglican traditions may have limited knowledge of this particular season. “Our ignorance has unfortunate consequences – we lose out on a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our lives, to face our addictions to consumer culture, and to become more intentional in our discipleship to Christ. Saddest of all, when we undervalue Lent, we often fail to enter as fully into the transforming possibilities of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”
As Easter approaches the invitation to be drawn into the Lenten days of preparation always beckons me. Sometimes I feel emotionally and spiritually stretched during these days which is tough, but in the end, it’s always been such a gift because Jesus has led me to places in my life where I have needed to find healing and wholeness and in so doing my understanding of the powerful story of Jesus’ death on the Cross and his resurrection have become real, and my understanding has grown of how that affects my life each and every day.
I have always found it helpful to find a book (like Trevor’s one above) to read every day during Lent with suggestions on Scripture and themes to think about and also perhaps a daily practice to help me reflect on what’s happening in my life at the present moment.
Last year Ash Wednesday fell on 26 February. I remember how we were beginning to hear the dreaded words COVID-19 and by 26 March South Africa was in National Lockdown. We had no way of knowing that a whole year later we would still be in the grip of the pandemic and still experiencing stages of lockdown.
I have a sense that each person reading this would, if I asked, be able to tell me their own unique story of the past year. So, I wonder if this #lent which starts with #AshWednesday on the 17th February, needs to be a time of reflection, a brave time, a time to let the events of this past year get up and walk around in us, a time to walk with Jesus, to be in conversation with him, to touch his robe and feel the healing surge through us, to be his friend and let him be our friend in a shared time of suffering.
Heather Griffin and I will be hosting an Ash Wednesday #morningofreflection #quietday on the 17 February where we will be considering Jesus’ invitation to us for Lent. Why don’t you consider joining us online from 09h00 – 12h00 (see details on https://www.i4cc.co.za/book-online )
On Tuesday 23 March, just before Easter we will be online for another Quiet Morning of Reflection as we consider The Cross and Beyond.