The Beginning of the Journey
This week's Ash Wednesday Communion Service is the beginning of the forty-day season of repentance and preparation for Easter known as Lent. Much about Lent is old and complicated and lost in the fog medieval Europe. Its beginning date is tied to the date of Easter, always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. And the forty days do not include Sundays. The word Lent is thought to be a corruption of an old Germanic word for spring. The season commemorates Jesus' forty days in the wilderness and in the older traditions was a season of fasting. The meatless Fridays some of us may remember from our Roman Catholic friends was a ritualized form of fasting. The fasting was to be used to help the believer focus on his or her need for the forgiveness and grace offered by Christ through his death on the cross. The ashes imposed upon the forehead on Ash Wednesday were a visible sign of one of the most ancient symbols of sorrow, grief and remorse. Until 30 years or so years ago, most Protestants, especially those in the Reformed Tradition had little to do with Lent.
So why and how does a Twenty-First Century Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pennsylvania observe Lent? Easter is the great festive day of the Christian Church. In fact, every Sunday is to be a little Easter. We worship on the first day of the week because it reminds us of the day of resurrection. Our yearly celebration on Easter Sunday is only our highest and most focused of our week by week Lord's Day celebrations.
In anticipation of that great celebration, we have rediscovered Lent as a useful way to prepare ourselves. We often refer to the season as our "journey to the cross" in eager expectation of the empty tomb. We find that the tradition of fasting, "giving up" for Lent, can still be a very powerful way of calling our attention to all that Christ gave up for us. But we have also discovered the importance of "adding to" during Lent. Especially, adding the disciplines of prayer, devotions, Bible study and service.
As we gather this Wednesday, we will join together as pilgrims ready to begin a long and arduous journey whose way may be difficult but whose reward is great. As you enter the Sanctuary, elders will be available to impose the ashes of repentance upon the foreheads of those who desire to receive them. As your forehead is marked with the sign of the cross in ash, the elder will use the words of Genesis 3:19, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," a stark reminder of our need for the eternal life that come only through faith in Christ.
Our meditation, "The Color Purple," will be based on Thomas' words in John 11;16, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
The Chancel Choir will bring a haunting anthem that incorporates evokes the old spiritual, "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley." Jonathan LaBarge will introduce a newer version of a wonderful hymn, "Here is Love, Vast as an Ocean," what was called the great love song of the Welsh Revival of the early Twentieth Century.
I hope that you will join us Wednesday, but, more, that you will use this old tradition of Lent to bring spiritual refreshment and newness to your walk with Christ.
The Beginning of the Journey