Do you ever feel like you would like to slow life down a bit? Our culture does not encourage time away from work, noise, bad news, and hectic schedules. Since the beginning of Christianity, communities of faith have understood the need for reflection and contemplation.
Early Christians observed "a season of penitence and fasting" in preparation for the Paschal feast, or Pascha (BCP, pp. 264-265). The season now known as Lent (from an Old English word meaning "spring," the time of lengthening days) has a long history. Originally, in places where Pascha was celebrated on a Sunday, the Paschal feast followed a fast of up to two days. In the third century this fast was lengthened to six days.
Fasting became attached to, or overlapped, another fast of forty days, in imitation of Christ's fasting in the wilderness. The forty-day fast was especially important for converts to the faith who were preparing for baptism, and for those guilty of notorious sins who were being restored to the Christian assembly. In the western church the forty days of Lent extend from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, omitting Sundays.
Is fasting required to observe Lent? Of course not. Each person is encouraged to find some way to "dial back" and recenter. The Episcopal Church's publishers, Church Publishing and Forward Movement, make Lenten reflections available. Traditionally, the parish reads the "Little Black Book" published by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saginaw. The series was started by the late Bishop Kenneth Untener. It contains 6-minute reflections for each day of Lent and Sundays. We are also reading for the first time "Lenten Meditations" by Sister Claire Joy for the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund.
The last three days of Lent are the sacred Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Today Lent has reacquired its significance as the final preparation of adult candidates for baptism. Joining with them, all Christians are invited "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" (BCP, p. 265). At St. Barnabas, we do a number of things to signify the importance of this season of prayer and preparation for the joy of Eastertide. There is no ornamentation in the worship space, also known as the nave. The Chalice and Paten from which the Lord's Supper is served are made of simple pottery. Music is more somber and often in minor keys. The holy water font is drained to signify the Lord's time in the desert wilderness before beginning his ministry.