‘Lent is a Gift’: 40-day Lenten season helps Christians prepare for Christ’s resurrection
Published 4:00 am Sunday, March 6, 2022
Wednesday morning, Christians across the world began their preparations to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and penance in preparation for Easter, began Wednesday morning as many Christians attended Ash Wednesday ceremonies to receive a cross of ashes on their forehead and penance and begin their preparation for Easter.
“Ash Wednesday gives us a chance to remember our mortality — that we are dust and to dust we shall return — and it gives us a chance to stop and think about how our lives are aligned with God’s will and whether or not there are things we can do better to align them with God’s will,” said the Rev. Elisabeth Malphurs, rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bovina.
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The Rev. Sam Godfrey, the rector of Christ Episcopal Church, said Lent gives people “a time to look inward and look outward looking toward God; orienting yourself to God and his calling to life.
The Lenten tradition of fasting and penance goes back to the earliest days of the Christian Church.
In the early days of the church, Malphurs said, Lent was a time when people prepared themselves for baptism and that time was also used to teach people about the faith.
“The 40 days became a time to prepare people to join the church through baptism and also to reconcile people who had just been away from the church,” she said. “Those practices became important, not just to the people but to the church as a whole because we all have a need to prepare for Easter and we all have a need from time to time to assess where we are in our walk with God and to take steps to change things that might be getting in the way of our relationship to God.
“We are not literally taking up our cross but we certainly want to remember everything that Jesus has done for us and we want to follow his model,” she added. “We’re not literally walking the way of the cross; we’re not literally going through the passion but we are called to look at Jesus’ life over the next 40 days and look at our own lives and kind of assess how we might turn ourselves more toward God and God’s intentions for us.”
People, however, can symbolically follow Christ’s path to his crucifixion through the Stations of the Cross, which is a tradition in the Catholic and Episcopal Churches. The Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross, allows participants through prayer and scripture to follow in Christ’s steps from his trial before Pilate to his crucifixion and death.
The practice began in the Middle Ages, when Christians on pilgrimage to Jerusalem retraced Christ’s journey to Calvary, stopping at various locations along the way for reflection, prayer and meditation.
The devotion later spread to churches in Europe, where a series of 14 images or small crosses were placed on church walls and people would walk from station to station to pray and reflect on the place the image or cross represented.
The number of stations was established at 14 in the 18th century; Pope John Paul II established a 15th station in 2000 — the resurrection.
“Lent points and prepares us for Holy Week and Easter and part of the journey is the 14 Stations of the Cross,” Godfrey said. “The Stations of the Cross are a part of the journey; a large part of the journey.”
The final week of Lent features special services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Holy Thursday services commemorate the Last Supper, while Good Friday remembers Christ’s passion and crucifixion and prepares people for Christ’s resurrection on Easter.
“I tell people Lent is a gift,” Godfrey said. “It’s always a gift when the church says take time to slow down and focus (on their relationship with God).”