What have you given up this Lent?
What is Lent?
Lent is an opportunity to contemplate just how much God loves us as demonstrated by what our Lord did for us on the Cross. Ultimately, the purpose of Lent is to point us beyond the Cross to the hope of the Resurrection.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of forty days of prayer, fasting and good works of love, otherwise known as Lent. The ash used for the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday are made from the burnt palm crosses of the previous year. Members of the congregation are asked to return the palm crosses to church on the Sunday before Lent and the palm crosses are burned as part of the activities of Shrove Tuesday.
The characteristic notes of Lent are self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and almsgiving all in preparation for Easter. Fasting/ self-denial is a way of denying ourselves the excesses of life so that we might be more attuned to the Lord’s voice. Prayer and scriptural meditations typically turn our attention to the salvation offered to us through Christ’s suffering. Almsgiving is a very important element of the Lenten season as it helps us to become aware of not only the suffering and sacrifice of Christ but also to the suffering of others.
In Lent and during Holy Week (the week leading up to the celebration of Easter) there are many devotional exercises which may be used. This includes The Stations of the Cross, made popular in the West by the Franciscans after they were granted custody of the Christian sites in the Holy Land.
A good way to start an examination of conscience is by praying Psalm 139, verse 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
There are also some useful Scriptural passages:
“I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate.”
“when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites…but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York offer the following reflection for experiencing a Holy Lent:
“The gospel is God’s rescue mission to bring us from darkness to light. This is the work of Jesus, the light of the world. But Jesus is not the only one called the light of the world by this title. He himself turns to his followers and says, ‘You are the light of the world… so let your light shine.’ To witness is to let your light shine.
A light shines simply by virtue of being a light. A follower of Jesus witnesses simply by virtue of being a Christian. We have been brought into his light, now he appoints us to bring his light to others. This is what witness is.
This Lent we invite you on a journey through the Gospel of John which gives you an opportunity to explore what the gift of Jesus and the challenge of Jesus mean for you, in the context of your daily life. In the middle of John’s Gospel is a verse that goes to the heart of it: Jesus said, ‘I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly’
It is our prayer that this helps and encourages you as you take hold of God’s gift of life and live it – to the full. God offers us this life for the sake of others. The light he gives us in Jesus Christ is not to be hidden but to shine – it’s a gift to be lived and shared. Indeed, the more we share it and let it shine, the brighter it burns.”
Archbishop Justin Welby & Archbishop John Sentamu