As you read this Lent will have either be about to start or have just started, and Lent is one of those yearly traditions that many of us keep or know about. However, it is important to remind ourselves about the traditions that we keep, maybe to give ourselves an opportunity to ensure that the tradition is still useful and worthwhile.
In this article are I am not going to rehearse the history of Lent, but rather to think about the why you might, how long and what you might do during this period of Lent. Don’t panic if as you read this, we are already in Lent you can choose to start today, it is never too late.
The sequence of Lent begins with Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) and Ash Wednesday (6th March), this is the gateway into the period where you might commonly giving up something for Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the time where you eat up all the nice things, ready for your fasting that will come during Lent. Then 46 days before Easter Sunday Ash Wednesday is marked. As the first day of Lent It marks the first day of fasting, repentance, prayer and self-control. Mothering Sunday (31st March) comes in the middle of Lent. Then in April this year we will have holy week beginning with Palm Sunday (14th April) Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Maundy Thursday where we remember Jesus’ last supper, Good Friday and then we make it to the celebration that is Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Lent mirrors the period of fasting and preparation that Jesus made during his time in the wilderness this was a period of 40 days, those of you who are mathematically alert would have noticed that Ash Wednesday comes 46 days before Easter and therefore technically there are six extra days, some people take the Sundays off as being non-Lenten days, others will cease the Lenten fast on Palm Sunday. I will leave you to decide which tradition you might follow or if you will go the extra six days and do all 46.
Of course Lent is synonymous with giving up. Often it is chocolate or cakes generally something that is a luxury, I myself once gave up coffee and concluded for the good of my ministry that I will never do it again. Giving up is a challenge, it presents a personal struggle between our subconscious desires and conscious want to improve ourselves. Giving up largely only has an effect on ourselves, we might become healthier because of it.
This year you might choose to do lent differently, you could instead of giving up something, take up something. Maybe something that would be useful in our communities, it could be as simple as choosing to say something positive to somebody every day or completing a random act of kindness. If you’ve never practised Lent, this might be a way.
I just have one last thought about Lent in amongst the giving up to improve ourselves or taking up to improve our communities, It would be wrong of me not to encouraging to use this time to reconnect with the reason Lent exists, it’s link with Jesus and his sacrifice, and ultimately with God. Therefore if you’re giving up the times when you’re feeling tempted you might want to follow in the steps of Jesus by turning to God in prayer and asking for his strength, and if you are taking up alongside any acts of kindness or community work you do you might do it prayerfully alongside God.
So I wish you a positive and useful Lent where you might make a difference to yourself, to our communities, but also you might discover a deeper relationship God over 46 days of Lent.