The origins of Lent are ancient, and more than a bit complex. While Lent has always been referred to as being forty days in length, there has been disagreement about which days are counted. In Episcopal tradition, Lent lasts forty days if you don’t count the Sundays, or if you don’t count Holy Week (but do include Palm Sunday). However, the Eastern Orthodox tradition counts neither Saturdays nor Sundays, so their Lent runs seven weeks to our six weeks.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which generally includes the imposition of ashes on people’s foreheads. Throwing ash on yourself in an ancient form of public penance and mourning, and is a reminder today of the brevity of our lives. Ash Wednesday originated as the start of the public penance of Christians who had been cast out of their community due to “notorious sins.” During the Ash Wednesday service, the penitents would be placed under discipline, and people would lay hands on them and pray for them. These penitents would rejoin the community on Easter Vigil, the first service of Easter.
Lent is the traditional time for catechumens to prepare for Easter baptism, for penitents to prepare for reconciliation and for the faithful to prepare for Easter. It is reminiscent of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, following his baptism, where he was tempted by the devil. As Jesus discerned the shape his ministry would take, he was tempted to feed the masses, wow them with miracles, or give up his principles and worship the devil in order to rule the world. During Lent, we seek to address our own temptations, whether that means giving up something to make room for God, or adding a discipline that draws us closer to our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
As you enter into your Lenten journey, may you find yourself drawn closer to God, distracted less by the world, and more fully open to the Good News in the resurrection.
Prayers and blessings,