Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent as we know it, came into existence somewhere between the fifth and eighth centuries. Before that, Lent began on what is now the first Sunday in Lent, and so there were only thirty-six days of Lent (Sundays, which always celebrate the resurrection, were excluded).
Forty is the number of days our Lord fasted in the wilderness, like the forty-day fasts of Moses and Elijah which are recorded in the Old Testament. Thus Ash Wednesday is now forty-six days before Easter (forty weekdays).
The tradition of fasting during Lent mirrors that of our Lord. In the Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday is described as a ‘Greater Fast’, one of two, with Good Friday being the other.
Fasting, in Biblical times, was always associated with acts of repentance, along with ‘sackcloth and ashes’. People or communities who had sinned would wear sackcloth and sprinkle themselves with ashes, as an outward sign of their repentance.
Lent, as a time of fasting, has been kept almost since the time of the Apostles. It is an end in itself for spiritually strengthening the faithful. Throughout the ages, the church has highlighted the many and varied purposes of Lent. It is a season when we pray for God’s compassion, and we should also show compassion to others. Money saved by fasting has traditionally been given to those in greater need. The church forgave sinners, rulers released prisoners, masters pardoned slaves and enemies became friends again. Lent became a season when Christians would grieve and show remorse for their sins and wickedness. For this reason, the Church discouraged celebrations and festivities and this is reflected in the use of a sombre purple as the seasonal colour.
By denying ourselves luxuries and pleasures, we can concentrate our attentions on spiritual matters, and from early times communions, sermons and spiritual exercises have been increased during Lent. In modern times we are equally encouraged to ‘take something on’ as ‘give something up’. If you are looking for a way to focus this Lent consider undertaking one of the following:
- Come along to church! Our 8am service is perfect if you’re not into singing hymns and last around 35 minutes. You could try our 10.30am for the full experience.
- Give some time to charity. Perhaps you could help at a local charity shop or food bank, these organisations are often crying out for help.
- Visit a neighbour. Sometimes there will be people leaving near you who may be on their own, why not pop round and say hello. If they are elderly, they may appreciate help with shopping.
- Donate to a foodbank. There are lots of people in need at this time, why not commit to donating £5 of food. We have a collection point in the Church foyer which is donated to those in need in both Saltdean and Whitehawk.
- Join our Lent Group. This takes place on a Tuesday morning and is a way of studying the bible through reading and discussion.