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The “Season of Lent” is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Though it has a rather complicated history, it is undoubtedly ancient in origin. As Ted Olson writes, “Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.”
In the 7th century, Pope Gregory the Great moved the start of Lent from the traditional 40th Sunday of the church calendar to a Wednesday calculated 40 days out from Easter (not including Sundays, which are considered feast days). This came to be called “Ash Wednesday,” since ash was smeared on the foreheads of observants in the sign of a cross. This appears to be a biblically-inspired symbol of repentance (“sackcloth and ashes”) and human frailty (“dust you are, and to dust you shall return”).
This year Ash Wednesday is March 6, 2019. As a season of both humble self-denial and honest self-examination, I’d like to briefly reflect on these items separately as you consider observing Lent this year.
Earlier this fall (August, 2018) we called the church to a month-long fast – including (but not limited to) a social media fast. The conversations sparked among the congregation during that time were encouraging and energizing! We would to love to see the conversation further unfold within our Small Groups this spring.
Fasting can be a great exercise in self-control, and is an ancient spiritual discipline of God’s people. But as with any endeavor worth carrying out, it is wise to plan your fast ahead of time. What will you fast from? Why? How will you do it? For how long? See David Mathis’ Fasting for Beginners from Desiring God for some helpful tips on this discipline. In addition, how and when will you share the challenges and benefits of your fast with others? Perhaps you can designate some time within your small group to share together regularly.
Of course, Lent isn’t merely about denying ourselves certain things, as if it were simply a religiously motivated diet. It is a deliberate season of reflection. It is a time of extended prayer and self-examination. In order to aid you in this time of reflection and prayer, we want to offer two time-tested models of prayerful contemplation and self-examination:
In the link for the divine readings, you will find the first week’s text from the Book of Lamentations. We will include a new passage from Scripture each week in a separate blog post released each Sunday evening. You can find these updated posts at the right of this post. Or click here
Consider doing the prayer of examen once a week and the divine readings daily, if possible. You can read the same (suggested) passage every day of the week, or select different ones each day. Consider also sharing with your Small Group what you’re hearing from God in those readings. May God bless you as you prepare your heart for the resurrected Lord!