Lent means different things to different people. Some see it as a time between winter and the arrival of the Easter bunny during which you have to give something up. Some see it as the season of Friday fish fries. Still others see it as the 40 days (not counting the Sundays) that precede the first full moon following the spring equinox. And still others note it as the church liturgical season between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
All are correct in some fashion. Lent usually starts when it is cold (the earliest possible start is Feb 4), it definitely has some Friday fish fries going on, it does start based on a calculation that uses the Spring equinox and it is indeed the church’s liturgical season beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday.
But why is it important?
Beginning with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday (I knew there was a reason they called it Ash Wednesday) and ending with celebrating Christ’s resurrection, and thus our resurrection which I’ll explain in a bit, Lent is a good time to make the connection between our death and our hoped for resurrection.
This can happen in many ways. Some people give something up such as chocolate or soda or French fries. Others take on a new discipline such as exercising or reading the Bible. Still others argue over which you should do, give something up or take something on. Both have their place and good reasoning; the key thing is to do something to mark the 40 days of reflection on the connection between death and life, life eternal.
Here’s the dust thing. The imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday represents the ‘dust from which we are and to which we shall return.’ According to Genesis in the Bible we are created from dust (Gen 2:7 – then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being) and according to the laws of reality it is to dust we shall return after we die. A sobering thought but inside that thought is the looking forward to the reality of resurrection.
For that we turn to Romans 6:5 which tells us, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In our baptism we have joined with Christ, his death AND his resurrection.
That’s good news and in my mind that is the bottom line. And certainly worthy of celebration when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from death on Easter. But until then we wait and we reflect. That’s the season of Lent.