Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday on 5th March this year and ends with Easter Sunday, which is on 20th April. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after His crucifixion.
Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing our hearts for Easter. It is observed by many different Christian denominations, although not every Christian church or denomination does so. Because Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture, observing it isn’t in any way a “requirement” of Christianity. Nonetheless, Christians from many different backgrounds choose to observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ during the Easter season.
How does one observe Lent? It differs from person to person and church to church, but some of the things Christians might do to observe Lent include:
On the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday is 5th March and our service will be at 18:30), some Christians mark their foreheads with ash as a symbol of sorrow and mourning over their sin. (See Job 42 for an example of ash used as a symbol of repentance.)
Some Christians choose to give up a habit or behavior during Lent as an exercise in prayerful self-denial. This might range from something as simple as not drinking your favourite cold or hot beverage during Lent to a full-blown program of fasting.
Some Christians commit to a special devotional activity during Lent—for example, daily Scripture reading, regular prayer for a specific person or topic throughout Lent, or volunteer work in their community. I am making a booklet available as a Lenten resource called Let Us Hold Fast. If you don’t yet have any specific Lenten devotional material, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you don’t have e-mail, phone the office at 011 907 2807 and they will print one for you to collect (ask for normal or large print). There will be some in the Info Stand, but if we can send it to you electronically, it will save a great deal in printing costs. Perhaps you'd like to join the excellent Faith as Wesley Lived it course on Wednesday evenings at AMC for the duration of Lent.
The choice to observe Lent is a personal one—the whole point is to focus your heart and mind on Jesus during the journey to Easter. There’s no requirement to observe it, nor should you feel forced into participating. However, millions of Christians around the world do observe Lent each year; if you’ve never done so, why not give it a try? Whether you observe Lent in a small or major way, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you devote a part of each day to reflecting on Jesus Christ and God’s Word.
The above hymn begins with the following verse:
To gather in that shadow when the sun went down
To weep with those who thought that you were leaving,
You were leaving, Jesus
The humble King who never wore an earthly crown.