Wednesday March 6, Christians across the world will mark their foreheads with a black ash cross and begin the liturgical season of Lent. At the start of this special day of worship, we are reminded that “from ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope” (Ash Wednesday rite in the Lutheran Service Book). As we lead up to the most significant observances of the church year, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we remember our sins, repent of them, and thank God for his saving gift of grace won for us by Christ’s death on the cross.
The season of Lent has been observed since the time of the early Church. It was traditionally a time to intensively teach new catechumen (new believers) about the life of Jesus and teachings of scripture before being baptized on Easter. The 40 days of Lent parallel the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the start of his ministry. Likewise, the followers of Christ also enter into a time of prayer, fasting, and contemplation. In case you’re counting, these 40 days do not include Sundays, which are like “mini-Easters” reminding us of the good news to come.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. On this day, Christians gather to receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads with ashes (usually burned palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday) as the pastor speaks, “From dust you are and to dust you will return.” This ancient practice is “a gesture of repentance and a powerful reminder about the meaning of the day. Ashes symbolize dust-to-dustness and remind worshipers of the need for cleansing, scrubbing and purifying. If they are applied during an act of kneeling, the very posture of defeat and submission expresses humility before God" (Lutheran Worship: History and Practice).
Throughout the season of Lent, other historic practices serve as vivid symbols of the themes of Lent. The color purple is used to represent penitence and quietude. The word “Alleluia,” meaning praise the Lord, is omitted during worship as we wait for the joyful exclamations of Easter Sunday. From ancient times, the church has also practiced types of fasting or self-denial. Historically, these included going without meals or simply abstaining from meat or other animal products. While it is not required to “give something up” for Lent, self-denial can be a helpful exercise and good reminder to focus our hearts on prayer, scripture, and serving our neighbor.
As we begin this season of special devotion, please consider joining us. Ash Wednesday on March 6th will be celebrated at our current location (4949 E Eastman Ave, Denver) with a potluck soup supper at 6:00pm and a service of the imposition of ashes and Holy Communion at 7:00pm. For the remaining Wednesdays in Lent, join us for a 5:30pm potluck supper and 7:00pm Lenten service at Christ Lutheran Church (2695 S. Franklin St, Denver).
Daily Lenten Devotions from the Lutheran Hour
The Season of Lent podcast from Issues Etc.