What is Lent?

A dialogue answer from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship (and Pastor Sue)

The word Lent comes from an old English word for springtime (lencten, lenctentid), perhaps connected with the lengthening days in this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. The season of Lent is a time for growth in faith – through prayer, spiritual discipline, and self-examination in preparation for the commemoration of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. (We encourage each other to pay attention to the details of our Christian life and lifestyle, and to take up practices or habit or develop tools that will enable, encourage and lure us to deeper faithfulness. At First Church, we take up Something Holy, Something Healthy, Something Green, Something Just. By deepening our practice, we begin to see with freshness what it means to say we are the new community of hope, a sign in the world of what God intends for all humanity.)

In ancient Christian practice, Lent was a time for preparation for celebrating Baptism or confirmation, and for the whole community of faith to reflect deeply on the theme of baptismal discipleship. (Lent is a time for us to dig in and sharpen up our tool kit for reading scripture by joining others in conversation about the Bible – so why not join in with one of the Wednesday Study Groups during the 6 weeks of Lent? This year we’re studying six miracle stories together.)

Reconciliation is a key theme in the season of Lent – reconciliation with God and with one another (and I’d want to expand the one-another to be reconciliation among all humanity and also include reconciliation with the earth) through the grace of Jesus Christ. (A really great text on the expansiveness of reconciliation is the Confession of 1967, one of our PCUSA confessions. It might a good Lenten devotional!)

Lent is a period of forty days – like the flood in Genesis, Moses’ sojourn at Sinai, Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb, Jonah’s call to repentance to Ninevah, and Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness. (And calls to mind the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness on the journey to the promised land.) The Sunday in Lent are not counted among the forty days, as every Lord’s Day is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at sunset on Holy Saturday.

The color for this season is PURPLE until the Sanctuary is stripped on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. (Since it’s the season of growth, you could force some paperwhite or daffodil or hyacinth bulbs during this season. Plant them on Ash Wednesday and see if they will give a bloom by Easter!)

“The path is narrow, the journey is hard – but there are blessings in every step” -Amy-Jill Levine