Lent & Prayers of Repentance
Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to switch off television or eating candy or telling lies. Its six weeks of self-discipline.
Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).
I wonder if you have given up something for Lent. I have not. It’s not that I have a problem with doing so but more to do with the fact that the Lenten season seems to have crept up on me this year and I did not take the time to think about it.
It surprises me how often I hear people say that they are giving up chocolate, or alcohol, or whatever because it may help them lose some weight. This is so not what Lent is all about. As it says above: its six weeks of self-discipline which, the original intention was, to remind oneself of the value of repentance.
If there is any connection between repentance and fasting the only weight I see being lost is the weight of the burden that we carry for our sin. Jesus has lifted that weight for us and repentance has great value in reminding us of that.
I know that all sounds a bit heavy but that is what is intended as the above mentioned bible passages suggest: When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1)…O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes…(Jeremiah 6:26)
The ash put on the forehead on Ash Wednesday is in the shape of the Cross. What a wonderful symbolic act. The ashes to represent our sincere repentance and the Cross where our sure, and only, hope of forgiveness lies.
Sometimes, I feel like so many things in life, the true value of Lent can get lost as people use it in a way that fits with our consumerist age. Another celebrity diet. If you feel that way then why not do what I heard suggested s few years ago, by an Anglican friend, and introduce something for Lent that you don’t normally do; an extra time of prayer each day, a time set aside for reflection or meditation, or an act of kindness towards your neighbours or the poor. The list could be endless but the purpose should always be to help us focus on the true value of repentance.
On this special day, Ash Wednesday,
may my small sacrifices in fasting be a way to clear away
the clutter in my life to see you more clearly.
May my longing for meat and other food,
help me to focus my life today more outside myself.
Let me be aware of those who are in so much more suffering than I am
and may I be aware of them as the brothers and sisters you have placed in my life.
Lord, I know there is darkness
within me and around me.
Bless these days with your Word.
Let your Light shine in the darkness.
Help me long for that Light
until we celebrate it at the Vigil six weeks from now.
And most of all Lord,
help me to honor this day with the ashes
on my forehead.
They help me remember where I have come from
and where I am going.
May I acknowledge to you my sins
and my deep need for your
loving forgiveness and grace.
I pray that this Lenten season
will make me so much more aware
of how much I need your healing in my life.
After Ash Wednesday
I am not asking to overcome my weakness,
but to use it in some way to glorify you.
Let me be aware of
the many ways you reach out to help me today
and let me stand in awe of the power
that you use in such loving ways.