The week leading up to easter
Within the Christian faith Easter is a crucial season – it celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The period leading up to this significant weekend starts with the Lenten Season, usually abbreviated to Lent. Lent lasts for forty days and commences on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Thursday, called Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.
JESUS CALLS ON GOD to help him when He is confronted by difficulties during His forty days in the wilderness. Likewise, Christians are reminded of their own vulnerability and need of God’s help. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the believer’s humanity and mortality. It reminds the believer that he was created from dust and will return to dust. The ashes remind believers that they will die and will literally rot away without God’s gift of eternal life, which Christians believes comes from Jesus Christ. In the Ash Wednesday service the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross on the worshipper’s head using ash made by burning palm leaves. The believer then leaves the service, marked with a symbol of his or her humanity, as an invitation for penance (reflecting on one’s sins and asking God for help). Ash Wednesday is a time for Christians to remember their own mortality and ask for God’s help, just as Jesus did in the wilderness, so that they might be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday begins Lent to remind believers that only with God’s help can they overcome their sins and suffering as human beings. As Jesus entered into the wilderness, He needed God to defeat the devil. In a similar manner, believers entering Lent, a season of facing sin, need a reminder of their mortality, Ash Wednesday, to encourage their reliance on God.
Maundy Thursday is the celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, also called Holy Communion, and Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. Some Christian churches observe a special Maundy Thursday Communion service in memory of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. The second significant act of Maundy Thursday, the ritual washing of the feet, is in commemoration of Jesus who, in humility and service, washed the feet of his disciples thereby setting the example that we should love and serve one another in humility. Maundy comes from the Latin “maudatum” which means command and refers to the commandment Jesus gave his disciples to love one another.
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Germanic word for springtime and can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning, a time for taking a spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to Him.
Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting. In the Roman Catholic practice, observers are required to forego something that has significance for them as a sign of their willingness to make a sacrifice for the sake of purity and cleansing. Observers in other Christian churches will make a personal sacrifice as a true sacrifice for God.
There are a few basic tasks that traditionally have been associated with Lent. Many of these have a long history. These are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. In addition, reading the Scriptures and the church’s writings can help one grow during Lent.
Most of the western churches advocate the observing of a period of repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Essentially the period of Lent is time set aside for reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a period in which the observer is tasked with reflecting also on his or her willingness to sacrifice his life in obedience to Jesus Christ’s will.
During Lent believers examine their own humanity and the ways in which they separate themselves from God to prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.
Lent is reflective of the forty days Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. As Christians enter their own symbolic wilderness during Lent, they remember their own humanity, their vulnerability to temptation, just like Jesus in the wilderness.
(In Easter Orthodox tradition, Lent starts on Clean Monday and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday, the day celebrated within the Christian tradition of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before His crucifixion.)