According to our kitchen calendar, today is Ash Wednesday. Until recently, Ash Wednesday meant about as much as those lunar cycle icons found on over 100% of printed calendars and cared about by less than 0.2% of the population. Now, let me qualify my ignorance by saying that I’m trying to make a point. There’s something about discounting a regular element in our culture — let’s say, for example, a curious holiday on a calendar — that makes us feel really smart but also exposes our ignorance. I just did that with the lunar cycles, above, in paragraph A. Someone must need this information that causes calendar makers to keep printing lunar cycles, year after glorious year. Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean that farmers and surfers don’t either. In fact, a FarmerSurfer (marked by his surfveralls and corn cob snorkel) cares deeply about lunar cycles, and that’s why he bought that “GlitterKitten!” 12 month calendar, winking at Mr. Muffins and knowing that a full moon means high tide. Also, it’s time to harvest beets. Right after the surf.
If it means something, it means something. Enter Ash Wednesday. It means something. Ash Wednesday means that Lent begins today. And what is Lent? Let’s begin by saying what Lent isn’t:
And now, with all that silliness deflated, let’s look at what Lent is, according to the internet:
an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches.
As it turns out, “certain other churches” includes “the one where I serve” , which, by the way, does have historical roots in both Catholic and Anglican churches. Some things didn’t carry over in the transfer and growth as the protestant church protested the Catholic church and branched out as it protested protesetables in the protestant church. But Lent is making a comeback, not because we want to go back to hailing Mary (as one person asked me) but because it has value as a Spiritual preparation for Easter. Easter is the big — BIG — Holy Day in the Christian Church. Robert Webber described every Sunday as a “little Easter”, with Easter Sunday being a “BIG EASTER!” because, after all, Jesus is risen! The implications are huge — sin is defeated, death lost its sting, new life is possible through faith in the Risen Christ. It is the day of days and deserves major and intentional celebration by Christians every year.
We all agree that Christmas is a big deal, right? It’s the birth of the Savior, Emmanuel, God made flesh and dwelling among us. Christmas gets a time of preparation — Advent — to help us be in the right place to celebrate His birth. Think of it this way: Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter. And Christmas leads to Easter. And Easter leads to salvation, available to all. Should we not celebrate? Should we not proclaim to the max? But of course. The windup comes before the pitch. The baking comes before the feasting. Lent comes before Easter. We’re building tension as we face the truth about us. We need to experience the effect our own sin and the reality of separation from God, a lack of repentance and the darkness to which our hearts are prone to wander. Lent helps us be ready to truly and properly celebrate Easter because we see that a solution is the only way out of this mess, and that only comes from realizing the enormity of the mess in the first place.
Today is Ash Wednesday. To mark the occasion, we might allow our foreheads to be marked by dust. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return”. This is part of realizing the mess. Accepting the imposition of ashes means that we acknowledge the fact that we are but mortals, waiting for the inevitable departure from earth and our transition to dust as we eagerly look forward to a much needed rescue.
Our hearts are broken by our own sin, which starts a longing deep in our souls for some kind of Victory over sin and death. Getting our souls to go someplace takes time, sometimes weeks. From today until April 24th, we prepare for Easter by facing our darkness, confessing it, and allowing time for the Risen Christ to make us new.
So that’s Lent.
But why, oh why, is it called Lent? Why not call it “EasterAdvent” or “PrepForPeeps?” Because it also marks the lengthening of days — “lent”/length — as Spring nears, the sun is up longer and new life emerges. New life. Indeed. Praise Jesus.