Ash Wednesday

Last Wednesday evening we gathered for the Ash Wednesday service to mark the beginning of the season of Lent. The accompanying photo was taken at the conclusion of the service and shows some of the folk who attended.

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring”. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.

Every year, Lent begins with the same story—Jesus’ temptation by and renunciation of Satan after a 40-day fast in the Judean desert. Lent begins this way not simply because the synoptic Gospels begin their story of Jesus this way, but also because the baptismal covenant begins this way, too. The very first question Christians have historically asked, from the earliest forms of baptismal covenants to the present, is: “Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” Though we use somewhat different language in our current ritual the point is the same. The first Sunday in Lent is a clarion call for all present to declare renunciation of all other powers as the first act of faithfulness to the Christ who calls us to follow.

Renunciation is not simply an individual act, but an explicitly political one. It is a public declaration of a breach of allegiance. The first step toward life in God’s reign is a step away from life under the reign of Satan and the “powers of the air.” We recall in our first reading today we had first said yes to Satan in the garden. So before we can fully say yes to God now, we must first declare a resounding “No” to Satan and his ways. That is the logic that lies behind what happens to Jesus in today’s gospel reading. For God’s Yes to Jesus at his own baptism to take him anywhere, his first action must be to prepare and learn to say No to Satan. The forty-day fast was the time of the preparation, at the end of which, though famished and physically diminished, Jesus was spiritually prepared for the strong temptations that followed.

The early church thus developed these forty days of Lent to prepare new candidates for baptism and re-prepare the whole congregation for our faithful discipleship to Jesus, beginning as he did, by learning to renounce Satan. (United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship. -Edited in parts)

The four-week study ‘With Jesus To Calvary” as well as Holy Week services will be offered as ways to assist us on our journey and consciously be “in tune” with the wider church in its observation of Lent. I hope you will be able to take part in the study as well attend services and activities during Holy Week.

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