Joining Together in the Observance of a Holy Lent

On Ash Wednesday, March 1, the Good Samaritan community will join with Christians around the world to begin the annual 40-day journey with Jesus through the season of Lent. The Ash Wednesday liturgy invites us, “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 265) Since the 6th century, it has been the tradition of the church to offer the imposition of ashes to begin Lent as “a sign of our mortality and penitence” so that we remember it is only by God’s “gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (BCP, page 265) 

Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop of the Diocese of Florida, who ordained me almost ten years ago a deacon and priest, wrote a powerful Lenten reflection in which he points out that the ashes imposed on our foreheads are also a sign of God’s love. I quote part of his reflection here: “…if we wear the ashes lightly, remembering that the foundation of repentance is love and grace, then those same ashes can be to us a sign of love, a reminder of our baptismal vows, and a seal of God’s faithfulness to us. Not a mark of the curse of the law, but a sign of freedom and an emblem of rebirth… You see, the important thing about Ash Wednesday and about this Lenten Season should not be the dark smudge on our foreheads, but the smile on our faces… and the joy in our hearts on account of Him who died for us and rose again, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The Church of the Good Samaritan offers four services on Ash Wednesday, March 1, all of which include imposition of ashes and communion: 7:00am and 12:15pm in the Chapel, a 5:30pm interactive service for families (all are welcome) in Ashton Hall, followed by a pizza dinner, and a 7:30pm traditional service in the Church. You will be blessed as you begin your holy Lent at one of these services.

The season of Lent in our church calendar is a powerful tool for our ongoing spiritual formation. I’m grateful that our Episcopal tradition observes Lent as a special time of preparation of our hearts and lives for the celebration of the glorious feast of Easter. We visually recognize that we’re in Lent through the use of purple altar hangings and clergy vestments, and in the absence of flowers at the altar during services. Our Lenten liturgy begins solemnly with the congregational recitation of the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) (BCP, pages 317-318, 350), reminding us of God’s commandments for how to live holy lives that are pleasing to Him. Our general confession also occurs at the beginning of the service, setting a penitential tone.

As we consider how we may engage in the observance of a holy Lent in our daily lives, remember that God is most interested in the attitude of our hearts. Whether we choose to take on a new spiritual discipline in Lent, or decide to give up a particular practice, we should do so with joy in our hearts and thanksgiving to God for His love for us and all He has done for us in and through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. 

The Ash Wednesday liturgy itself gives us suggestions for how to observe a holy Lent. We may set aside time for prayer or fasting or some other form of self-denial, or we may choose to read and meditate on Scripture through a Bible study or devotional. Perhaps we want to observe Lent by making regular visits to a parishioner who is homebound (see our Parish Nurse, Susan Starke) or by participating in a prayer or life group.

You may also want to consider making an individual, private confession as part of your Lenten journey. In the Episcopal tradition, we say that “all may, some should, and none must” make such a confession. There is, however, much healing to be found in engaging in serious self-examination, and then naming those sins the Holy Spirit reveals to us out loud in front of another person. In James 5:16, we read, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (or made whole).”

Take a look at the Book of Common Prayer’s service for “The Reconciliation of a Penitent” (pages 446 – 452) and ask the Holy Spirit whether such a confession would help you in the observance of a holy Lent. All of Good Samaritan’s priests are available by appointment to hear confession. You may also confess to a deacon or lay person, and receive a “declaration of forgiveness” as found on page 452 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Finally, I strongly encourage you to participate in one or more of the special services of Holy Week, as we walk together through Jesus’ last days on earth. Holy Week begins with the Palm Sunday services on April 9 and continues with services for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter. May you and your family know God’s abundant blessings in this Lenten season as you draw near to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.