Above all Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, the Feast of Feasts – Alexander Schemann
Although the hymn Forty Days and Forty Nights models Lent on Jesus’ wilderness temptation, this period of the Church’s year is better understood as a direct preparation for the keeping of Easter. This journey is marked by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with a service designed to begin this journey well. In the context of the celebration of the Holy Communion the people are called to a public act of penitence. This begins with a litany of self examination which is both personal and expansive in its concerns and is followed by an opportunity to receive, on the forehead, the sign of the cross in ash.
With or without sackcloth, ashes have been a sign of sorrow, mourning or repentance since biblical times (Esther 4.1; Job 46.2; Jeremiah 6.26; Daniel 9.3; Matthew 11.21 etc). As the observance of Lent became more elaborate in the early medieval period, the imposition of ashes was seen as an appropriate way to begin the season of penitential preparation for Easter. Since 1986 an authorised form of ashing has been available in the Church of England and the imposition of ashes is widely practiced.
The ash reminds us of the dust of mortality and the sign made with it is the Cross, the means of new life.
The Christian begins Lent by receiving once again the mark of the cross, in dust because of human falleness, but nevertheless it is the cross, put back where it belongs as the Lent journey to the cross of Christ begins. – Michael Perham
Lent may originally have followed Epiphany, just as Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness followed immediately on his baptism, but it soon became firmly attached to Easter, as the principal occasion for baptism and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the Church’s fellowship. This history explains the characteristic notes of Lent – self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, almsgiving and preparation for Easter.
The seasonal emphasis of penitence and self-denial is reflected in the readings and music at our services, through the absence of Flowers and the use of purple vestments.
There are a wide range of services and study groups in Lent, please see our pewsheet for details or here on the website.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross have formed part of Christian devotion, particularly in Lent and Passiontide for many centuries. They originated when early Christians visited Jerusalem and wanted to follow literally in the footsteps of Jesus from Pilate’s house to Calvary .Pilgrims would pause for prayer and devotion at various points and eventually the practice was brought back to their home countries. Ever since then Christians of differing traditions have used this form of devotion.
In the late fourteenth century the Franciscans were given the responsibility for the holy places of Jerusalem and they erected tableaux to aid the devotion of the visitors. These kinds of images are now commonplace inside churches, and occasionally outside them.
The form of service we use on Friday mornings in Lent uses scripture, prayer and movement to follow the way of the cross. The very act of walking from station to station enables us to engage actively with the path of suffering walked by Jesus.
Mothering Sunday is on the Fourth Sunday of Lent – click here for more information.