The Season of Lent
A depiction of Jonah from the façade of the Amiens Cathedral (thirteenth century).
The season of Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and self-examination in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord at Easter. It is a period of 40 days — like the flood of Genesis, Moses’ sojourn at Mount Sinai, Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb, Jonah’s call to Ninevah to repent and Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness. (The Sundays in Lent are not counted in this reckoning of the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, as every Lord’s Day is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.)
In the early church, Lent was a time of preparation for the celebration of baptism at the Easter Vigil. In many communities of faith it remains a time to equip and nurture candidates for baptism and confirmation and to reflect deeply on the theme of baptismal discipleship.
The Paschal mystery
An excerpt from the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Geneva Press, 2003 110-111)
What we hear during Lent is the power and possibility of the paschal mystery, and that the way of the cross, the way to Easter, is through death. To appropriate the new life that is beyond the power of death means we must die with Christ who was raised for us. To live for Christ, we must die with him. New life requires a daily surrendering of the old life, letting go of the present order, so that we may embrace the new humanity. “I die every day!” asserts Paul (1 Corinthians 15:31). Resurrection necessitates death as a preceding act. The church’s peculiar Lenten claim is that in dying we live, that all who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death. To be raised with Christ means one must also die with Christ. In order to embrace the resurrection, we must experience the passion of Jesus. The way of the cross, the way to Easter, is through death of the “old self.” In dying, we live.
Therefore, at the beginning of Lent, we are reminded that our possessions, our rulers, our empires, our projects, our families and even our lives do not last forever. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The liturgies throughout Lent try to pry loose our fingers, one by one, from presumed securities and plunge us into unknown baptismal waters, waters that turn out to be not only our death tomb but surprisingly our womb of life. Rather than falling back into nothingness, we fall back on everlasting arms. Death? How can we fear what we have already undergone in baptism?
It is the power of the resurrection on the horizon ahead that draws us into repentance toward the cross and tomb. Through the intervention of God’s gracious resurrection, lifelong changes in our values and behavior become possible. By turning from the end of the “old self” in us, Lenten repentance makes it possible for us to affirm joyfully, “Death is no more!” and to aim toward the landscape of the new age. Faithfully adhering to the Lenten journey of “prayer, fasting and almsgiving” leads to the destination of Easter.
During the final week, Holy Week, we hear the fullness of Christ’s passion, his death, and resurrection. From Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and on to the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), all of Holy Week focuses on the passion. As his followers, we travel Christ’s path of servanthood through the Lord’s Supper and the suffering of the cross toward the glory of Easter, all of which underscores the inseparable link between the death and resurrection of Jesus.