By Joe Sheeran
So, last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. That means a couple different things. It means I put on nice clothes and went to church on a weekday. It means that I got ash rubbed on my forehead in the shape of a cross. And it means that Lent has begun.
Someone asked me why I was wearing a tie (although the real reason is that I love wearing ties), and I explained that it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
“Lent? That’s like a diet thing, right?”
No. No it is not.
Lent is the season of the Christian year leading up to Easter. It is “forty” days long, beginning on Ash Wednesday and, depending on denomination, goes until either Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. Sundays during Lent don’t count as part of the forty days because they are, like every Sunday, a celebration of the Easter Miracle of Christ’s resurrection.
There are many ways in which believers observe Lent. Catholics, for example, will often abstain from eating meat (not including fish and shellfish) on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent. People frequently give something up for Lent, such as beer or sweets. But the point of these small sacrifices is not to eat better or even to practice self-discipline, though these are worthwhile pursuits. The point is to prepare for Easter.
Before setting out on his ministry, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, fasting and enduring temptation from Satan. After these forty days, he began his work on Earth that ultimately culminated in his crucifixion and resurrection. Similarly, Christians prepare for the Passion and Easter by undergoing their own season in the wilderness, enduring temptation and other forms of penance.
Lent is possibly my favorite liturgical season. It jives well with my natural tendency to melancholy. (Which doesn’t mean I am a sad person.) It is a long and necessary night before the joy of Easter morning. And then what a morning it is!
It’s a season without “Hallelujah!”; a time for focus on human mortality and, by extension, human failing. For forty days, death is on our minds – inexorable death that ultimately turns everyone into dust. But then on Easter Sunday, we experience the miracle of miracles! Christ defeats death, ransoming mankind from bondage to sin, and bringing eternal life to whoever will accept it. And you know, Easter music is much better than Christmas music, IMHO.
But I mean, if you just want to see how well you can do without beer for forty days, be my guest.