(Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy for Ash Wednesday)
My dear friend Deb, who is a Jew once observed, "I never know what to say to someone on Ash Wednesday. 'Happy Lent' just seems wrong." Many Christians find the season just as baffling.
The forty day fast first appears very early in the Biblical narrative, in the story of Noah.
Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.Moses was on Sinai for forty days. Goliath's torment of Israel. Goliath tormented Israel forty days. Elijah's journey to Horeb, and Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh both took forty days. So Jesus had plenty of precedent when he went into the wilderness to do battle with the devil.
Our Lenten journey commemorates Jesus time in the wilderness, but liturgically, it also calls us to remember the long road to Jerusalem, Golgatha, and the empty tomb of Easter morning. The Lenten prayer commands us to turn our hearts toward three things, Repentance, Fasting, and God's holy word.
To repent means to change direction. We confess that the direction we are headed is not where we want to go, and we turn and to walk another way.
To fast is to say "no" to our own desires - to deny ourselves that which stands between us and God.
To read and meditate on God's holy word is a double discipline. First we take the time to open the Bible and stick our noses inside. Then we take the time to digest the words God gives us.
So giving up beer and chocolate for a few weeks really doesn't cut it.
A friend of mine has pointed out that the Lenten discipline is nothing more than the rule of life for a Christian. Ideally, we would spend every day of our lives in repentance, self-denial, and meditation of the word, but there are no ideal Christians. So we have this special season designed to remind us who we ought to be and how we ought to live. Each of us is on the road to Calvary and the empty tomb. In making a Holy Lent, we remember that every step of the journey is important. We are not only walking toward celophane grass and colored eggs - we are walking beside Jesus who choses to accompany us on our trip from life to death and resurrection.
Pennsy therefore invites you, beloved reader, to a Holy Lent. May you consider your life's direction, turn from the false idol of self-gratification, and seek your God and yourself in the Holy scriptures.
Don't be afraid. We will walk the road together.
And Jesus will walk with us both.