Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent and Lengthening

In nearly every language the word for the season before Easter means (or has something to do with) the number forty. It’s a Biblical number: the Israelites wondered in the wilderness for forty years, and; Jesus was in the desert for forty days. Therefore, the season of preparation for the great feast of the Resurrection (also known as Easter) has forty days.

In English this season is called “Lent.” The word lent has nothing to do with the number forty. Lent is an old English word that refers to the lengthening of days (or the day-light hours) and was the word used for the Spring of the year. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with the lengthening of sermons, which, by the way, have lessened (grown shorter) in recent generations.

These forty days are traditionally marked by fasting (from certain foods and parties), and often includes other acts of penance such as prayer and almsgiving. These traditional practices are profound acts of justice: prayer is justice towards God; fasting is justice towards self, and; almsgiving is justice towards neighbour.

Take a quick look at any calendar and you will see that from Ash Wednesday to Easter is more than forty days. Sundays are excluded from the count. Sundays, no matter what liturgical season it is, are days of celebration: celebration of all that God did for us by raising Jesus. Mostly we would agree that fasting and prayer are holy acts. So too is almsgiving. But let’s not forget that we are called to celebrate; getting together to share in times of festivity, with music and joy, is showing glory to God.

Whatever you give up for Lent – don’t make it worship; don’t make it attending our Sunday celebrations.

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