■ Ronald Ritter / Contributed
Many Christians from certain faith traditions exercise their Christian freedom by “giving something up for Lent.” Why do they do this? They choose to do so not as a requirement of their particular church tradition, because there is no biblical admonition for such a practice. Then why do they do it? They do so as a way to remember and personalize the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross for their sins. Once again, under the auspices of Christian freedom, they should not “judge” or “look down on” other Christians who do not choose to make this temporary personal sacrifice.
The theme of human repentance and God’s forgiveness is part and parcel of the Bible’s fundamental message and integral to all Christian faith traditions. For the most part, this message is preached from Christian pulpits throughout the church year. Yet, in certain faith traditions such as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran and a few others, the message of repentance and forgiveness is highlighted during that season of the church year known as Lent, the 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday.
This verse pretty well summarizes the penitential nature of Lent. It is Joel 2:12-13 and reads from the English Standard Version as this, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
My wife, Judy, who had one foot in a Roman Catholic convent when she met me, was swept off her feet not by me but by Martin Luther. In any event, here’s what she remembers from her former obedience to the pope in Rome. The omission of eating meat on Fridays was a standard practice during Lent; conservative Catholics still follow this practice.
To this day my daughter still omits chocolate during Lent and Judy will not eat between meals. A friend from our military days gave up coffee; we know some people who give up soda. I’ve even known some who promise to clean up their language during Lent, and apparently they weren’t my military friends!
The word “Lent” itself comes from some of the older European languages which meant the lengthening of days. As the days lengthened from the darker winter months into spring, that was equated to the glorious central feature of the Christian faith that was Easter, or the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. That is darkness, Lent, connotes the absence of Christ who is the Light and is fully revealed as such on His resurrection at Easter.
The “Ash” in Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead or on the back of the hand in the shape of a cross as a personal and powerful reminder of the need for repentance and the Bible’s clear statement that mankind has been created by dust and unto dust he shall return.
In general, those churches that have a much longer history of the practice of detailed liturgical propriety such as Roman Catholic and Orthodox have evolved a more stringent and detailed observance of Lenten practices. The relative newcomers such as Episcopal, Anglican and Lutheran are less stringent and open to more contemporary Lenten practices such as placing the ash cross on the back of the hand instead of the forehead.
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church will observe Ash Wednesday on Wednesday, March 1 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The latter service will be preceded by a soup supper at 5:30 p.m. Please join us.