On Wednesday, March 6th, the season of Lent will begin. It is a time when Christians all over the world prepare for the observance of Holy Week and the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter morning, which this year is on April 21st. There are many practices and activities that are associated with the Lenten Season. However, three primary practices or pillars of Lent are: prayers, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer: We devote more time to prayer to help center our hearts and minds on Christ Jesus. We also pray for the grace to remain faithful to our baptismal promises. We pray for others that they also may fulfill their own baptismal commitment. One of the ways we will pray here at St. Mark’s is through the Wednesday Evening Services using the Holden Evening Prayer Service. It is an opportunity for us not only to pray, but also to take a step away from the busyness of life and practice centeredness in the midst of community.
Fasting: Fasting is believed to be one of the most ancient Lenten practices. We do not make ourselves more righteous or more deserving of God’s grace by giving up something or by fasting during Lent. The purpose of fasting is to create a spiritual link between those of us who have more with those whose diets are sparse and simple. That is why congregations often have a simple meal before their Lenten midweek service. The practice of giving up something for Lent, while it may be beneficial to us, is not the goal of Lent. It is about community and the connection we create with others, especially those who are not as fortunate as we are.
Almsgiving: This practice is also about community. It is an expression of gratitude and compassion. We express our gratitude for all that God has given to us. We express compassion when we understand that charity and justice are important as we live out or baptismal faith within community. Sometimes the word “charity” is used in place of the word “almsgiving”. Charity, as a practice is not about giving a handout, but rather creating a just environment in which others can be lifted up.
We are reminded of these spiritual practices at the very beginning of Lent as part of our Ash Wednesday service which will take place on March 6th at 7 pm. We receive the mark of the cross with palm ash accompanied by the words; “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of human mortality at the beginning of Lent stands in sharp contrast to the celebration of the resurrection and the promise of forgiveness and eternal life on Easter morning!
There will be another feature of our Lenten Midweek services. We will offer a series of dramas around the theme Convicted. The congregation will step into a court room for Ash Wednesday and the following five weeks of Lent. Each week a different Biblical person will be put on trial, accused of a 21st century crime. The prosecution and the defense will both present their cases and then the congregation will serve as the jury.
I invite you to join with me in observing the three practices of Lent and in preparing for Holy Week and Easter.
Thanks be to God,
Dennis H. Kelly, Interim Pastor