This year at Living Stones Church we are preparing for Easter Sunday by joining with hundreds of millions of other Christians around the globe in observing Ash Wednesday on February 18th. Following Ash Wednesday we are observing Lent, the 40 day season leading up to Easter. The word “Lent” is derived from the Old English word “lencten,” which means “spring”. The earliest traces of Lent can be found in the second century, when the Church was still in her infancy. A period of repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial was common to the early Church as a means of preparing for a truly celebratory Easter, in which the resurrection of Jesus was recounted. Lent was also a season in which Christians would walk alongside new converts as they taught and ministered to them before they would be baptized on Easter. Ash Wednesday was added early in the Lenten season’s formation as a day that marked the beginning of Lent, which would extend to 40 days prior to Easter, not including Sundays. The 40 days would mirror the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to His ministry. On Ash Wednesday, worshipers are encouraged to corporately confess sin, recommit to repentance, and remember our mortality. A key component of an Ash Wednesday liturgy is the imposition of the ashes in which ashes are smeared or marked in a cross on the worshiper’s forehead. In the early Church it was common to sprinkle the ashes, but smearing or marking became more uniform by the end of the first millennium. The wearing of ashes, which symbolize sorrow and repentance, was familiar to the Old Testament (Job 42:6, Lamentations 2:10, Jonah 3:5-9) and the symbolism was used by Jesus when he pronounced woe on certain cities for their lack of repentance (Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13). These observances are a rich part of our Christian heritage and are a time-tested means of unifying our worship as we experience and remember different facets of the gospel every year.
At Living Stones our Love to Death Campaign will coincide with the Ash Wednesday and Lent. In the Campaign we are continuing through the Gospel of John, retelling the events leading up to Jesus’ death through our worship and preaching. On the evening of February 18th we are beginning the Lenten season by holding an Ash Wednesday service. During this service we corporately confess our sins together through singing and prayer, and Romans 6 will be preached as we are called to remember our baptism and commitment to put sin to death. At the conclusion of the service, worshipers will be invited to come forward to participate in the imposition of the ashes as a sign of that commitment. When we receive the imposition we are reminded that “we are dust, and to dust we will return.” This means that we will die one day, and we have no hope apart from the person and work of Jesus. After being dismissed, the congregation is invited to begin the Lenten season in preparation for Easter. Sundays in Lent are oriented toward the journey to the cross and worshipers are encouraged to participate in this season through prayer, fasting, and devotion. Consider using the 40 days leading up to Easter to recalibrate your soul and rethink the things that may be keeping you from loving God and loving people. Consider re-dedicating yourself to the spiritual disciplines (prayer, fasting, bible reading, fellowship) as a means of glorifying God and conforming yourself further to the image of Christ. For practical ideas on how to participate in Lent, use the Love to Death Campaign Guide that can be found here.
An important distinction needs to be made in regards to the difference between Roman Catholic practice and Protestant practice. Although Roman Catholic churches and many Protestant churches, like Living Stones, participate in Ash Wednesday and Lent, their respective motivations for doing so may differ. When participating in these observances, you should examine your motivations and see if they are in line with Scripture. I wish to not speak for all Roman Catholic churches, nor do I wish to speak for all Protestant churches, but I can tell you the motivations that we will have at Living Stones for our participation. Jesus has paid for the penalty of sin in full. There is nothing that we can add or take away from the work of Jesus. However, in our present state, we are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, or being made more like Jesus. Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, etc. are tools to help us learn the faith—not earn the faith! Times of confession, repentance, and mourning over our sin are critical to this process because they serve to magnify the work of Jesus. If we are really not all that sinful, then what Jesus did for us was seemingly insignificant. But, if we are a people who are truly in touch with our sin, and are aware of our hopelessness to save ourselves, then it makes Jesus all the more precious to us. That is our aim at Living Stones. We want to use the season of Lent as a means to awaken us more to how sinful we are, so that on Easter Sunday when we proclaim the risen Christ and his victory over sin and death on our behalf, we will experience unspeakable joy. Join us during Ash Wednesday and Lent, as we journey to the cross together, that we may see the depths Jesus descended to so he could rescue his Church.