In times past, people would fast, or give up meat
But one area pastor usually commits to adding something to his life, perhaps a Bible study or additional prayer time, something he said will add to his spiritual journey
This year, the Rev. Neil Arnold, interim pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Bountiful, is going to pray with a friend he’s not prayed with in years.
“We were special spiritual friends,” who frequently prayed together, Arnold said.
“The last time we prayed together, he was having a health crisis. Now we may be praying to remone some things in my life.”
Lent, Arnold said, is the traditional time of reflection for Christians to look at the state of their faith.
Lent lasts 40 days, between Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22 this year, and Easter, not including Sundays.
Arnold said the 40 days is reminiscent of other 40 day periods throughout the Bible: the great flood in which Noah and his family were spared from God’s wrath; Moses being kept alive supernaturally for 40 days and 40 nights without food or water; and a number of other instances, including Jesus’ 40 days alone in the wilderness.
“Our focus during Lent is on Jesus’s 40 days of reflection. It’s a time to evaluate who I am,” Arnold said. “For me, it’s a time to reflect on who I am called to be as a Christian.”
Arnold compares this time of reflection to seeking an anual checkup from a physcian.
“Once a year you go to the dictor to make sure your health is being managed,” he said. “I see this in much the same way. Is my relationship with God healthy? What can I do to commit myself to that relationship?,” he asks.
Ash Wednesday is characterized by a worship service in which the minister imposes palm ashes in the form of a cross, while reciting the phrase, “from dust were you made, and dust you shall be.”
The ashes were used as early as the fourth century. Those accused of serious sin, whether of humble or noble birth stood barefoot before the cathedral with bowed heads.
The bishop would pass among the people, assigning acts of penance. The sinners would then enter the church and before the altar, recite seven penitential psalms.
Through the years, it evolved, until even the devout took part.
For those following the liturgical year, Ash Wednesday is preceded by a time of celebration, of carnivals, in which Christians would overindulge before having to “give up” something for Lent.
They end on “Fat Tuesday” or the “Mardi-Gras,” with great feasting. Many churches hold pancake suppers that night.
During the Reformation, many Protestant churches discontinued the practice of imposing ashes on the faithful.
With time, however, some Protestant churches have reinstated the practice, along with the observance of Lent.