Lent: renewing our discipleship

Lent

Lent is a forty-day period before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Lent has long been the primary time to renew our discipleship by adopting some discipline to heighten our spiritual awareness. The idea of discipline relates to the experience of being a disciple. The disciple is a learner, and discipline is the way of learning. It includes instruction for the mind and exercises for the body. The traditional Lenten disciplines are fasting, prayer and almsgiving but there are many other disciplines that we can practice including study, solitude, and simplicity.

The forty days

The church has always had times of fasting, penitence and preparation. In the early church the custom of fasting before Easter was practiced, initially for only a few days at a time. It also became the tradition to set aside a time of preparation for catechumens, who would undergo a rigorous period of instruction, reflection self-denial, scrutiny and prayer in order to become candidates for baptism. The church eventually decided on a forty-day period for Lent as a reminder of the forty-day period of Jesus' fast in the desert. It also recalls other forty-day or forty-year times of significance in Jewish history:

  • Noah and the forty days of rain;
  • Moses' fasting for forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments;
  • The Israelites' wandering for forty years;
  • Elijah's travelling for forty days to reach God's holy mountain.

These experiences were occasions of spiritual cleansing and preparation to encounter God in a new way. The forty-day period of Lent excludes Sundays, which are considered little Easters, feast days that celebrate Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week.

Lenten practice in our worship services

In our worship, we mark the season of Lent in these ways:

  • We use the colour purple. Purple signifies great solemnity, penance and royal dignity.
  • We don't use flowers to decorate the sanctuary.
  • In place of the Gloria, which is normally recited at the beginning of the service, we use the Trisagion — "Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us."
  • We use the Lenten invitation to confession, thanksgiving preface, post-communion prayer and blessing.