Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar. It’s a “moveable feast”, meaning its timing is always tied to Easter (which fluctuates by the moon – a story for another day!). Ash Wednesday occurs 40 days before Easter – excluding Sundays – and marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.
In Presbyterian circles, not much has been made of Lent over the course of its history, for the very reason I mentioned above: the season excludes Sundays. Reformed Christians were never big on celebrating the Christian year anyway; talk to some older Scots, and you’ll find that in the extremes, even Christmas wasn’t recognized as such in the church.
The church year is a human construction, after all, but it can be helpful for many believers who like to have some structure to their personal and corporate spiritual life. I celebrate Lent in my devotional life, but it doesn’t get much more than a wink and a nod from me on Sundays, because if you count the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, you’ll find that it only adds up to 40 if you don’t count the Sundays. Each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection – a little Easter! So we don’t stop singing our hallelujahs and the like for the Sundays in Lent, because those Sundays are havens from the penitential nature of the season.
Lent has also become something I’m not sure it was ever intended to be by those who first cooked up the idea. Even people who haven’t much time for God will use Lent as a season for “giving something up” – like coffee or chocolate or something like that. (Rumour has it that Tim Horton’s moved its iconic “Roll Up The Rim To Win” promotion to coincide with Lent because too many people were giving up coffee!)
To those who give up things for Lent I’m prone to ask, Is it drawing you closer to God? Because if it is, it would make good sense to give it up permanently!
Lent can be a season that allows us to step back and consider our relationship with God, and what may be keeping us from growing in that relationship. It can be a very meaningful observance. But it should not involve somber, joyless Sunday worship gatherings. We may be entering Lent, but the tomb is still empty!
By the way, if you’re looking for a nice meditation and an interesting family activity to begin the season of Lent, check out Ann Voskamp’s blog here.