The rector invites the congregants to kneel as a tangible, physical sign of our desire of repentance. He begins to recite from the Book of Common Prayer: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
I had never attended an Ash Wednesday service before, and as my church did not hold one, I asked my friend if I could come along to her church’s service (Anglican Church of the Redeemer) because I wanted to be more intentional about Lent this year. As each congregant rose from their seat to receive ashes, the rector reminded us, “Remember that you are from dust, and to dust you shall return” as he, with ashes, formed the sign of the cross on each of our foreheads.
I have never ‘succeeded’ in observing Lent. My church back home never formally talked about it, and yet a topic often brought up at church and at school among friends would be, “So what are you giving up for Lent?” Every year I would try, but the most I’d ever ‘survive’ would be a week.
Eventually, we moved into a time of corporate confession. The rector led, “We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.” We then prayed together, “Have mercy on us, Lord.”
Stephen Bankson recently wrote in his Bagpipe article, “There is a lot of value in a process that takes time,” and challenged us to lengthen our attention spans. I know that Lent is not prescribed by the Scriptures and that we are not justified by our observance of Lent, but perhaps the reason that I have never ‘succeeded’ with Lent is that I have only seen the purpose of Lent as self-denial. I have only viewed Lent through the lens of my own six week journey with what I choose to give up, without the parallel journey of Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection.
More times than not, what I give up as a result of Lent has not pushed me towards greater communion with Abba Father. Perhaps you have experienced this too. However, I’m beginning to realize that we give up something in order to acknowledge our finiteness; to remind us of our need and dependency on Christ as the perfect atonement for us. In this, we are able to more clearly see a need for the reality of the resurrection.
For those who choose to ‘give up’ a food, habit, or vice or ‘take up’ a practice or discipline, may the next few weeks lead you to remember that you are not your own. We are not our own; we are only more than dust because of Christ, and maybe this Lenten season would lead us to depend less on ourselves, and much more on the Holy Spirit. During this holy Lent, would we all ponder the gospel of Jesus Christ—His life, ministry, and death—as we await His resurrection. Come behold the glorious mystery of Christ!