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Observing Lent (beginning February 17)

Lent will soon be here and Rockland will be fully engaged in this preparation for Easter,
April 4.

Even as early as the second century Christians have observed a time of fasting, a special focus on the poor, and spiritual disciplines. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believers through prayer, penance, repentance of sin, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. Think: Christian spiritual growth new year’s resolutions. 

Lent is a season of soul-searching reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church when the faithful rededicated themselves. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, organized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. 

Because Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, we skip over Sundays when we calculate the length of Lent. Therefore, in the Western Church, Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter.  What is Ash Wednesday? Ashes were a sign of penitence/repentance/mourning. Oftentimes churches use the palm branches from Palm Sunday that have been burned from the year before as their ashes. 

In many countries the last day before Lent (called Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival or Fasching) has become a last fling before the solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat

But the word “Lent” isn’t in the Bible!

The word “Bible” isn’t in the Bible, either! So, what we’re really asking is the origin of the name. 

Originally “Lent” was nothing more that the English name of the season between winter and summer, the season when the snow melts and the flowers bloom. German and Dutch have the same word, but with slightly different spelling. In German, “Lenz” is the poetic word for “spring.” In Dutch, the word “lente” never changed its meaning. It is still the name of the season between winter and summer and it is still used with that meaning in everyday life.

The church observance took place during the season of lent. In England, “Lent” came to mean the observance rather than the season, leaving the season without a name. Instead of saying stupid things like “Lent happens during lent,” English-speaking people invented the word “spring.” Today, instead of calling the seasons winter, lent, and summer, we call them winter, spring, and summer. We use “Lent” instead of “spring” when we refer to the church season. 

Three days before Easter, we gather for Maundy Thursday. It comes from the Latin “mandatum” which means “Commandment”. It is from when Jesus gave His disciples  a “new commandment.”

John 13: 34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And then during Lent we meet and acknowledge “Good Friday” That terrible Friday when Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb is called “Good” because it led to the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.  

WHY “DO” Lent? How do I start?

Are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose and passion? It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of relationships, family, classes and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that takes us away from living a life with Christ.

We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol, too many activities or other irrelevant stuff. We run away from life and from God.

Lent is a great time to “repent” – to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s a 40 day trial run in changing our lifestyle and letting God change your heart. You might try one of the practices of Lent.

FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that’s not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from candy, tv, soft drinks, cigarettes or meat, as a way, to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality tv to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. What do you need to let go of or “fast” from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat, wear or do?

SERVICE: Some Christians take something on for Christ.  You can volunteer for one of the missions Rockland is so involved in, you can commit to help a stranger, co-worker or friend everyday of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God. 

PRAYER: Christians also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with God.  

Christians from many different traditions celebrate Lent. How will you use the time to grow closer to God.


10) Try an electronic fast. Give up TV, texting tweeting, email and all things electronic for one day every week (or everyday for Lent!) Use the time to read and pray.

9) Start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, hear an ambulance, or check your e-mail.  Before you text someone, pray for them. 

8) Read one chapter in the Bible each day. (Matthew is a good book to start with.
Psalms too!

7) Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it (maybe even yourself).

6) Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Give the money you save to help folks in Puerto Rico or others in crisis. 

5) Create a daily quiet time. Spend 30 minutes a day in silence and prayer. 

4) Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way.

3) Be kind to someone each day.

2) Pray for others you see as you walk or drive.

1) Volunteer one hour or more each week with one of our local missions, or with a tutoring program, nursing home, or Habitat for Humanity project.