What is Lent?
Lent is the 40 day season that prepares us for Easter. It invites our whole person into a sacred drama that follows the life of Jesus. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we enter a 40 days wilderness journey with Jesus that culminates in the great Easter celebration! It is the most liminal season in the liturgical calendar because it suspends us between death and life.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Christians mark this day by drawing a cross on their foreheads with ashes. The ashes are made by burning last year’s palm branches used during the Palm Sunday celebration. This is significant for Christians because it reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will one day return.
Wearing Ashes remind us of Daniel 9: 3-5, 17-19 (NLT)
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Oh Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.
While Ash Wednesday is a somber day that begins our Lenten fast, it also carries hope and wonder because God loves dust. Let us not forget what wonders God has done with dust!
What is Holy Week
Holy Week begins one week before Easter on Palm Sunday. During Holy Week, we are drawn deeper into the story of Jesus as he approaches Jerusalem and begin his journey to the Cross. On Palm Sunday, we wave palm branches along with the crowds gathered to celebrate His triumphant arrival in Jerusalem.
On Maundy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper and foot washing Jesus shared with his disciples. But the night ends in confusion with betrayal, scattering and denial.
On Good Friday, we follow Jesus along the way of the Cross which leads to his crucifixion and death. Holy Saturday bids us to wait with the myrrh bearing women and then to follow them to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday!
Why Observe Lent?
Immersing ourselves in the Jesus story during Lent clears away overgrowth to make space for new life. Lent asks us to examine our life in the light of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Jesus demonstrated that the way to life is through death - specifically His death which mastered the grave, defeated sin, and conquered the forces of evil.
And so our ironic invitation during Lent is to encounter life through death. By giving up habits that orient us toward death and clearing away the weeds of vice, we cultivate virtue and practices that flourish our life with Christ.
During Lent, the whole Church is invited to a “holy observance…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, 265)
With this purpose in mind, the season of Lent welcomes our intentional habits of prayer and scripture reading (union with God), fasting (resisting vice) and almsgiving (cultivating virtue). We do this not from obligation, but as response to God's love and the deepening of his life in us.
What is Virtue and Vice
& Why Focus on Them During Lent?
A virtue is a habit or character trait that helps us to live well and to flourish. A vice is slightly different from a sin. A vice is also a habit or character trait that leads to sin. A vice is a distortion of good desires and virtuous things. And so a vice is a habit that grows from too much or too little of something good and virtuous.
A vice"is a disordered love for something that — if sought in a well-ordered way — is good."
Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th century monk, taught that vices can be fought not with greater virtue but with spiritual disciplines like fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Armed with these good habits and empowered by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit will work in us virtue.
Lent is a season of repentance. But we must examine ourselves in order to uncover the root vices that drive our sins. And so the practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving aid us toward deeper self-knowledge in order to confess sin and grow in virtue, human flourishing and Christlikeness. Some call this season the “springtime of the soul” – a season of clearing away the weeds in our spiritual gardens to make room for resurrection life to burst forth with Christ at Easter.
Because each person struggles with different vices, the habits of Lent will look different for each person. For instance, fasting from food may be a good idea if you struggle with avarice because avarice is concerned with provision. But if you struggle with pride, fasting may only deepen your habit of self-reliance and accomplishment.
Choosing a Lenten Practice
Before choosing a Lenten practice, prayerfully consider what you desire to see God clear away and grow in you during Lent. Which vice and virtue feels most significant to you this year? Where do you long for freedom and growth? Remember that the hope of Lent is to deepen our life with Christ and intensify our hunger for His kingdom
Gluttony is the vice of excess and unrestrained desire. Gluttony wants to consume and be filled by too much of anything.
Lust is the vice of selfish desire. It seeks sexual pleasure and takes for personal happiness.
Avarice is the vice of greed and materiality. Avarice is focused on provision and possession; money and the things money can buy.
Anger is the vice of wrath. Anger is driven by control, power, honor, and getting what’s deserved kind of justice.
Acedia/Sloth is the vice of comfort. Sloth is lazy about love and struggles with both commitment and the effort needed to sustain it.
Vainglory is the vice of esteem and reputation. Vainglory is excessively concerned about what others think and wants to be known, well-thought of, and loved.
Pride is the vice of superiority. Pride is concerned with excellence, being on top and in charge. Pride wants to be God.
Envy is the vice of image and glory. Envy is concerned with identity, comparison and competition, and the appearance of excellence. Envy seeks applause.
Lenten Preparation Worksheet
To help you choose intentional Lenten practices, we crafted this simple worksheet. Remember that less is more. Limit your choices to only those things that you can do with intention. There is no shame in "failing" you fasts. If you do, let the moment call you into deeper knowledge of yourself, the areas you desire to confess and to hold fast to God's grace and love.