Lent, the six-week season leading up to Easter, takes its name from an old Anglo-Saxon word which means lengthen. This is the time of year when the darkness of winter diminishes and the days lengthen as spring appears. (Not too spiritual I know, but I didn't create it, I'm just explaining it!) So, what is the spiritual significance of this season? Stick with me a minute.
Early in the history of the church, special devotion was given to the 40 hours Jesus' body lay in the tomb. It was a sacred time of abstinence and reflection on the suffering and meaning of the cross. Eventually the 40-hour observance was stretched into a whole week to recall and reenact all of the events of Holy Week. This was where modern Passion Plays took their roots.
Over the centuries Holy Week was extended into six weeks to represent a tithe (one tenth) of the days of the year. We often focus on tithing as how much we give, but Lent became a way of giving God 36 days of our lives to devote special attention to our spirit and what Jesus did for us. You might say, "Wait, aren't there seven days in a week? Doesn't six weeks equal 42 days?" Yes, but Sundays in Lent aren't counted. Those are days to worship and break from fasting and somber acts of self-denial to worship in joy and thanksgiving. This is why we speak of Sundays in Lent rather than of Lent. (I know you're yawning right now, but I've got to make my seminary education of use somehow)
Eventually the season was extended to 40 days in keeping with the biblical significance of 40: forty days and nights the flood lasted in the time of Noah, forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness, Jonah preached in Ninevah forty days, Elijah fasted 40 days, and Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days. Since Sundays aren't counted, four days had to be added, hence we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday.
So how does this day get its name? Lent begins with a somber reminder: everyone of us will return to ashes one day. Not exactly party conversation I realize, but without being reminded of this truth, we will start to live as if everything we do right now is all there is. Otherwise, why not live for the moment? What does it matter if we take care of ourselves and our relationships? What good is it to care for the earth? Live for the day and forget about tomorrow. Unless...
There is more. What if we really believed that one day God will recreate life? What if there really will be a new heaven and a new earth one day? Then everything we do counts for something. Lent is a time of year to recalculate, as my GPS says when I go astray. It's a time to return to God's desires for our world and each of our lives. It's a time to be reclaimed with the idea that we are God's and joy, meaning and fulfillment is found in life when we live out of this belief. This is what we will be thinking about each week in this season through our series, Somethin' in the Water. We begin Wednesday evening with a smudge of ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, not just recalling we will all one day die, but affirming that through Christ we can be alive in ways not even death can take away from us.
Just like we have been advertising St. Luke's with our word MORE, there is more to life than death, and we discover MORE when we stop living for more.
I hope to see you Wednesday!