Essays on Faith: Ideas for observing a Holy Lent

Although March is more than halfway over, it continues to excite the senses.

Early morning rain seeps into thirsty earth, releasing a pleasant aroma that is present only in this season.

From my window, I see golden daffodils dancing in the gentle breeze and hear the cheerful twitter of returning birds.

Warm sunshine caresses my face, delighting my senses as I taste the delicious sweetness of springtime at last.

It is a lovely time of year. After a long string of dreary, wintry days, it’s a pleasure to look out my window again. Suddenly, lethargy is replaced with a vigor I haven’t felt for awhile; the spring has returned to my step.

Bright yellow sunshine highlights golden forsythia and jonquils. Flowering trees of pink and white brighten the landscape in all directions. Every tree, bush and blade of grass shows signs of new growth — and this is just the beginning. Still to come are dogwoods, both pink and white, cherry blossoms, wisteria, crepe myrtle, roses and copious other flowers of spring and summer.

While we revel in the beauty of this changing season, let us not forget that, for many, it is a solemn time.

For Christians, it is the season of Lent.

Lent is the period of 40 days that comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians duplicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.

After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan came to Jesus and tried to tempt Him. After Jesus refused each temptation, Satan departed and Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his ministry.

During Ash Wednesday services on the first day of Lent, many pastors invite their congregations “to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self–denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word” (from the United Methodist Book of Worship). While you may be aware of this season leading up to Easter, you may wonder how you might “observe a holy Lent.”

Here are a few suggestions.

n Fasting: One of the more common practices is to give up something for Lent. Some abstain from chocolate, social media, shopping or something else through the season. This is a religious practice known as fasting. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things, and back toward God.

n Bible reading: Start your day with scripture. You wouldn’t forget to say good morning to your spouse or your children. Give God the same courtesy. Begin each day with Him and watch how much better your day goes.

n Prayer: In the busyness of our everyday lives, prayer can sometimes get squeezed out. Lent is a wonderful time to intentionally work toward finding more time in your life for prayer. You can experiment with different ways to pray during the season, or delve into a new-to-you way of praying. Enriching your prayer life is a great way to spend Lent.

n Service: Another way to observe a holy Lent is to take on a new way of serving. Throughout the 40 days of the season you can adopt a new habit of volunteering in the community, making special financial gifts to service organizations, singing in the choir or participating in a small group.

n Rest: An important practice with which many of us struggle is the spiritual discipline of rest or Sabbath. Along with resting on Sunday, you can also find moments during an ordinary day to be still in God’s presence. You might spend a few minutes during lunch with a desktop meditation or listen to sermons during your commute.

This year, Lent began on Feb. 26 with Ash Wednesday and ends on April 9, three days before Easter Sunday. However, there is an entire list of events leading up to the finale called Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday. This marks Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem, where He received palm branches at His feet.

After Palm Sunday comes Holy Wednesday, which acknowledges Julius Iscariot’s plan to deceive Jesus. It is followed by Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper.

This is the official end of Lent but not the end of Holy Week.

Next is Good Friday, the day Christians recall the crucifixion of their Savior.

The final day of Holy Week is Easter Sunday, a day of celebration as believers joyfully acknowledge that Jesus rose from His tomb.

Ah, how sweet it is to witness the rebirth of spring as it corresponds perfectly with the time we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord.

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro.

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