Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Why do we celebrate Lent? What is Lent? Lent is a time of reflection through prayer, penance and self-denial. In the Episcopal Church, we typically give something up in order to make more room for God.
Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. In liturgical traditions, this time period is a commemoration of the 40 days Jesus was in the desert resisting temptation. Of course, there are symbolic parallels between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the number 40 is often used. Lent could also be related to the 40-year period of time during which the Israelites wandered in the desert.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Episcopal Church is among my favorite liturgies that we use. It serves to remind us that we are mortal. The liturgy is as follows:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.
After this, parishioners kneel at the altar and the priest imposes the ashes. She or he will mark the forehead of each parishioner with ashes and say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Needless to say, the Ash Wednesday service is among the most solemn services in the church year. However, the service is meaningless if there isn’t action behind it. This year, I am going to attempt to have a meaningful Lent. I plan on doing this first by self-denial. It may sound trite, but I’m giving up diet soda. For me, that’s hard. I drink about 10 Diet Dr. Peppers a day. As I’m writing this, I have a headache because I haven’t had one yet. However, I know that by denying self, I am making room for God.
A few weeks ago, I heard someone speak of another way to make room in his life for God. Most of us are overwhelmed with consumerism and have so much “stuff” that it weighs us down. The plan was for each day of Lent to get rid of something. Be it clothes or household goods, take something that you don’t use and give it away. I plan on doing this too and giving whatever I get rid of to the church rummage sale.
There are also many apps to help anyone have a meaningful Lent. This year, I have chosen an app called “Into the Desert.” It’s by the Anglican Board of Mission in Australia. It builds on the common Lenten theme of Jesus’ time in the desert. The imagery in the app comes from the vast and beautiful Australian desert. I think it will be a good guide for Lent and will provide a moment of solitude in a busy day.
Lent us upon us. Take advantage of it. Go to an Ash Wednesday service and experience the simple beauty and powerful liturgy. Make yourself lighter. Get rid of baggage, emotional or physical, and make room for God. Make this the most meaningful Lent yet.