In church life, Wednesday past marked the beginning of Lent, which is a six-week period of preparation leading to Easter, the high point of the Christian year. It is known as Ash Wednesday because of the tradition of believers placing ash on their forehead as a symbol of repentance, a desire to rebuild their relationship with God.
This derives from the ancient near-eastern practice of throwing ashes over your head as a sign of repentance or mourning.
Lent has been observed for many centuries and was originally mainly a time of fasting abstinence from all but the minimum amount of food needed to sustain life. It also involved prayer, meditation and a deliberate and particular focus on matters spiritual.
Lent, by tradition, has been seen as a time of self-denial.
Everyone is encouraged to give up something they enjoy for that 40-day period, and not only that, I was raised with the challenge that any money then saved should be donated to some worthwhile, charitable cause, especially for those who had little or nothing all the time.
‘Self-denial’ runs counter to the emphasis of our culture today.
Self-indulgence seems to be the hallmark of our times. At every turn we are encouraged to go for whatever it might be we think we might want. If it feels good, just do it. Have it now, worry about how you will pay for it later. You must always have the latest, and the best, that you can. What you want is what matters, be sure you do not miss out on anything.
The season of Lent challenges us to look at ourselves, and the needs and concerns of others, in the light of God’s self-sacrificing love for us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave His life on the cross, that we might enjoy the gift of life in all its fullness which God has promised to us in Jesus. And in Jesus’ sacrifice and His ultimate triumph over death in the Resurrection, which is what the celebration of Easter is all about, we have been offered the priceless gift of eternal life, to always be in the presence of, and embraced by the grace of God.
As we realize all that God has accomplished for us in His love in Jesus, we are challenged to look at what we are prepared to give, and to give up, in response to that.
What are we willing to sacrifice, and share, that God’s love may then be more clearly known in us, and in the world around us?
In the Gospels, Jesus taught us that “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke chapter 9, verse 23)
Self-denial, not self-indulgence, is what makes the difference. Let us consider that challenge as we make ready for the great celebration of Easter.
The Rev. Robert H. Kerr, St. Columba Presbyterian Church, Parksville