At Northminster we gather on the third Wednesday of the month for a meal, worship and Bible study.
This month we’ve moved our gathering up one week so that we can be together on Ash Wednesday. On Wednesday, March 9th, we will eat, we will study Genesis together, then we will mark the beginning of the journey that the church calls “Lent” with ancient rituals.
Lent (from the old word for “spring”) began as a two day fast for new Christians prior to their Easter baptism. Those who were going to be baptized refrained from food as a way of meditating on the seriousness of their decision to follow Jesus.
By the 4th century Lent had become an observance for all church members and had extended into a season of forty days (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter. The forty days began on a Wednesday, which came to be called Ash Wednesday because during worship that day ashes were used to make a cross on the foreheads of worshipers. The ritual served to remind everyone of their mortality and the short time we have to grow into the people God created us to be.
During the season of Lent, Christians are encouraged to reflect on what Jesus has done for us and how we might better live out our calling. Lent became a season of reflection and renewal for the entire church.
At Northninster we will be reading Exodus together for the next six weeks (You can find a reading schedule here). For our next 3W (April 20th) we will share a Seder, the traditional Passover meal of our Jewish ancestors.
I love the way Frederick Buechner explains Lent and the questions he offers for reflection:
In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you the happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.