If you are not part of a church tradition that celebrates Lent, you might be wondering where I am coming from with this untimely title. My favorite holiday season will begin with Ash Wednesday and culminate on Easter Sunday. It is known as Lent and was established by the early church fathers as a way of spiritually preparing for the Holy Week of Easter.
I started practicing Lent before I worshiped in a church that encouraged forty days of repentance and preparation for Easter. I began my own Lenten observations after my husband gave me a devotional book in 1995 called 40 Days with the Savior—Preparing Your Heart for Easter by Henry Gariepy. Sadly, it is out of print, but if you ever come across a copy I encourage you to purchase it. Henry’s wise observations of the last week of Jesus’ life continue to stimulate my thoughts and understandings of my Savior’s love.
February 21, 2007 is Ash Wednesday and it marks 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. I never knew the excluding Sundays bit and I was confused for several years as to why my 40 day devotion finished well before Easter. This is just one of the many discoveries I have made in my experiences of practicing Lent.
In most churches today, Christians are asked either to give up something for Lent, or to take on something. I’ve fasted from different foods or certain activities—like television. I’ve never taken on only saying sweet things to my husband, which he would really like. I have found a special spiritual power during the Lenten season as I choose a fast, inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am not able to pass over chocolate on any other day, but when that has been offered for a Lenten fast; I discovered a power beyond myself.
I used to look at Ash Wednesday as a strange church tradition where people walked around with smudged heads—the ashes rarely seem to stay in the shape of a cross. Now I see it as a time to be still and soak in what the cross meant to Jesus and what it means to me.
I want to encourage you to consider practicing this season in some way. Pick up a 40 day devotion, Lenten or otherwise, in your local Christian bookstore. Wear a cross each day and touch it while thinking about what Jesus might be thinking as He prepared to give the greatest example of love the world has ever seen from the cross.
Take a moment either at your church or even in your office this Ash Wednesday to ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can use the next 40 or so days to ponder the wonder of Easter. I believe you might decide that Easter is the greatest holiday on earth and find more excitement as you contemplate that He is Risen, Yes He is Risen Indeed!