Today is Ash Wednesday. Maybe like me, that hasn't always been that big a deal to you. Maybe you come from a tradition, where the liturgical calendar is not really observed. Over the past few years, however, I have grown deeper and deeper in my appreciation for it. There is such richness in our Christian heritage, and in walking through the Christian calendar, observing and really focusing on all its different seasons.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. The 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. the 40 days symbolize the 40 days of testing and fasting of Jesus in the wilderness. Lent is a time for lament. It's a time to remember the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross. It's a time to mourn, and a time to even identify in some way with Jesus in what he endured on the cross.
We know Easter is coming and we know that there is victory there, and that Jesus conquered death! Jesus is our risen Lord!! But in order to be the risen Lord, he had to die. So even though Lent is not one of the "fun" and "happy" seasons of the Christian calendar, it can be an extremely meaningful and transformational one. I pray that you find ways to make this a meaningful season for you and your family.
There are three disciplines that are most commonly associated with Lent: Fasting, praying, and alms giving.
Though fasting is typically associated with abstaining from all or some foods for a period of time, you can certainly fast from other things. There's a youth group I know of that has committed to fast from facebook together during Lent. Amazing. Maybe it's food, maybe it's something else. The point is to identify with the sacrifice that was made through Jesus on our behalf, and to allow the Lord to sustain you and feed you during the fast.
Alms giving-- giving a special gift. Maybe you can pray during this time about how to give to others, how to give to those in need. That can look like a lot of different things. Maybe you can see what efforts already exist at your local church. Maybe there's a neighbor or an elderly person or an unemployed friend that Lord can use you to bless. Think about it. Pray about it.
Finally, there is often an increased focus on prayer and Bible reading. Maybe you can read a particular gospel account as a family during this season. My grandmother used to always read through the book of John several times during Lent. I have held onto this practice in my own life, too. It connects me to her in a way, but most importantly, I am drawn in to the presence of God the Father, through Jesus the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you can set aside a special time to pray daily as a family.
One thing I'm also really excited about doing myself, is perhaps something you'd like to join in on, too. I'm going to be spending Lent reading the community reader that my school has published. They have actually made it available online,too. There's something that happens in us when we journey together as a Christian community. When we read Scripture together and grow together. If you want to check out the Lenten reader online, you can go HERE. It's all there for you, and you don't even have to worry about figuring out what Scriptures to read. This has been very prayerfully put together, and I'd love it if you would join me there. I'd love it if we could talk about what we're learning and how God is moving in us through the practice of reading Scripture together. The first set of Scripture readings and prayers have already posted this morning.
In light of all I've said above, I invite you to read (actually from the afforementioned Reader today) Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 to get our hearts centered on Christ, and to reflect upon how our fasting, praying, and alms-giving should be done.
I challenge you-- I challenge myself-- to pray for the Lord to reveal himself to us during this Lenten season. And I challenge you, if you've never observed Lent before, to enter into this season with an open heart, focused on our God, in new ways.