The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, which is one of my most favorite days of the whole entire year, and the start of my most favorite season.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a journey. It is a chance for me to stop, look within myself, and determine where I am on my faith journey and where I need to be. It’s a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal.
The season of Lent has been around for quite a while. In the early Church, not just anyone could come down front and join. Christianity was illegal, and very dangerous. There were spies who would try to infiltrate the faith community and report to the government. Becoming a Christian was a long process of learning what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. During that time, the postulants were not allowed to receive Communion. Instead, they would go to another place during that part of the service and receive instruction from someone who was already baptized. This was a three-year process, and was designed to weed out those who didn’t truly have a heart for God.
The final forty days were an intense time of learning and showing the elders that the candidates for baptism were ready to accept the weight of being a full member of the local church. It was a time of fasting, of repentance, of penitence.
The candidates were baptized on the night before Easter Sunday, and received Holy Communion as full members of the Church. It was a joyous time of celebration, both of the resurrection of Jesus, and of those who had been dead to sin but were now alive in Christ.
Today, Lent carries a different, though similar, meaning. It is a time when disciples can focus on how to be better. It is a time to assess where we stand, and where we need to be. It is a time to search for and admit wrongdoings, and a time to ask God’s forgiveness. It is a time when we look within ourselves and question why we believe what we believe.
The primary color of Lent is purple. It is a somber color, and it reminds us of penitence. Many churches use burlap or unbleached muslin for paraments and decorations, which remind us of the sack cloth and ashes that we see so often in the Bible as the garb of sorrow and repentance. At Robertson Chapel, the paraments are unbleached muslin embroidered with purple. The brass cross, candlesticks, and offering plates are taken away and replaced with wood and other rough textures. A banner is hung that has the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Outside, the large cross on the lawn has a purple cloth draped around it.
One of my favorite hymns for Lent is Charles Wesley's And Can it Be?:
Lent reminds us that it’s not about you.
It’s about what God can do in you and through you.