Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and the stores have already put out their Peeps and Cadbury Eggs in anticipation of Easter. Before we get to Easter, though, I invite you to join me in a tradition of the Christian community that asks us to be intentional with our lives in a way that we often aren’t the rest of the year.
The holy time of Lent is a 40-day season of reflection, repentance (turning around) and re-creation as the Christian community prepares for the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter) of Jesus. The season has often been “observed” by more than just people who identify as Christian, however. Many of us give up something such as soft drinks, cigarettes, desserts, social media, etc. The tradition of fasting is meant to be a sacrifice for Christians during these 40 days to help us focus on what really matters in life, especially on God and God’s call in our life.
Lent begins this year on Wednesday, March 1, Ash Wednesday. Some Christian communities will mark the day with fasting and most will hold an Ash Wednesday worship gathering where the imposition of ashes will take place. The day before is Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. Many churches and other communities will serve pancakes or other foods full of ingredients high in fat and sugar. This practice harkens back to the original traditions of this season when folks would clean out the items left in the house in an effort to get ready for fasting.
At Oxford College we’ll hold two Ash Wednesday services, at noon and again at 5:30 p.m. in the chapel on the Quadrangle. We’ll have readings, music and a time to reflect on our lives. During the imposition of ashes, which are made from the palm branches used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday worship gathering, I will place ashes on each person’s forehead along with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are meant to remind us of our mortality, repentance and the call on our life to live in good relationships with God, ourselves, and each other. At this gathering I’ll talk about the ways in which I plan to live with more intention during this season of Lent and will ask others to do the same.
I’m writing about this for a variety of reasons. First, it’s on my mind, because I’m spending a lot of time preparing for the gathering at the college. Second, I want you to know that you’re invited to an Ash Wednesday gathering near you, especially one of the services at Oxford College. You don’t have to subscribe to the Christian faith to be welcome here. Visiting different faith communities is an important step in beginning to know our neighbor and reaching across difference. Lastly, I believe these 40 days of Lent are a call to all of us to live with deeper intention. This is a season that asks us to examine our life, our relationship with that which we name as God or holy, and with each other.
As you pass the Easter goodies in the store, I hope you’ll be reminded about this holy season of reflection, repentance, and re-creation. What will you give up? What will you take on and integrate into your daily living that moves you to a place of greater intention? What will you do to be in stronger relationships with your neighbor? This is a good time to find out.
Rev. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University. You can find him running in the city of Oxford about three times a week.