We are already at the end of the first full week of Lent for those of us who practice the western church calendar. It's interesting that the season of Lent can be such a stumbling block for some. Is it something we as Christians should be practicing? That's a question many Christians ask, and it depends on what denomination you worship with. Those who do practice it can sometimes feel superior to those who don't, or feel that those who don't are "missing out". I have also noticed that many evangelicals know very little about it, or if they have heard of it. they feel it is too "Catholic", unnecessary and legalistic, an outward show of works rather than inward grace.
I grew up celebrating Lent. Truthfully, as a child I didn't really understand the reasons why. It was just something we did. My knowledge of it only went as far as knowing I was supposed to give up something during the season. Usually as a child that meant candy. Since, we didn't eat all that much candy anyway, it wasn't much of a sacrifice. I liked Ash Wednesday though. We would go early in the morning before school and I would wear my ashes all day, checking every mirror throughout the day to see if I could still spot them on my forehead. I remember eating fish sticks on Fridays and doing the Stations of the Cross with the youth group. I remember liking all these traditions,and the memory of practicing them still warms my heart. However again, I have to admit that I didn't really understand why I was doing them. So perhaps it's true that at that time in my life, I was participating in an outward spiritual show of works. All I know is that I loved the season and as a child I embraced it.
As adults my husband and I moved away from our Anglican Episcopal church and ended up attending a number of different denominational and non denominational churches over a period of years. Most of them had no traditions at all. While they were all wonderful faith filled places of worship, as the years went by I began feeling that something was missing. Finally, one Easter Sunday as I was worshiping I found myself questioning, "How did I get to this day? Last week was just an ordinary Sunday and now it's Easter." There had been no Lent, no Palm Sunday, no Holy Week, no Good Friday and yet suddenly it was Resurrection Day! That's when I realized that for me being Evangelical was not enough. I wanted the church calendar and the walk through the Gospels and many of the liturgical rituals that breathed life into my worship time.
Our Free Lutheran Church is a good combination of evangelical and traditional and for me,embracing once again many of the traditional rituals of the church has enhanced my walk with Christ.
For us Lent begins when I make a traditional pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday. My husband doesn't really like breakfast for dinner but he is a good sport about it. Traditionally, Christians would give up meat, eggs, dairy, butter and oil for the 40 days of Lent. They didn't want these foods to spoil so they would use them up in a celebrations of yummy foods that use those ingredients the day before Ash Wednesday, hence the name "Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras". Pancakes were an easy simple way to do that.
I help prepare the alter for the Lenten Season. Purple is the liturgical color for Lent. There will be no flowers on the alter as this is a simple time of repentance and reflection.
I choose a book of daily essays from my Lenten collection to read each morning and a devotional to read at worship time in the evening.
Some years I choose to fast from something, and some years I don't, but I do set up my own special place for worship during my journey and as the rocks pile up, so do the prayers The Lord places on my heart each day for the needs of others.
Taking the Lenten journey is a personal choice. For me it is important to remember that while these traditions and rituals are meaningful, they are meant to enhance my worship, and they do not replace grace or a relationship with Christ. Whether it is something you practice or not my prayer is that as Easter draws near you too will find yourselves drawing near to The Savior. All blessings to you and may your lives be filled with grace as you come near to the cross.