Preparation for the Lenten Season
A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, our guilt and evil bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth, none else the burden sharing.
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer,
Bears shame and stripes and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery and says,
“Willing all this I suffer.” (Christian Worship 100:1)
The Lenten season is a 40 day period (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. It is a penitential season. That is why it begins with Ash Wednesday – a powerful reminder that “dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Since we are dust and marked for death, we approach our Lord in penitence and humility, seeking his mercy.
One of the ways we may express our penitence is by fasting. Fasting need not be a total deprivation of food. Traditionally, Christians would reduce the number of meals they ate from three to two. Of those two meals, one (usually the later meal) was rather light. Or you may partake in two rather small meals with a regular sized meal. Sundays, however, remain feast days. Fasting, prayer, and the giving of alms go together. (Matthew 6:1-6,16-18) The time that we give up on feeding our bodies is devoted to prayer and meditation, and the money we would have spent on ourselves would be given to the poor or to a charity. Though such practices are not mandatory, Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us, “Fasting and other outward preparation may serve a good purpose….”
The Lenten fast is also experienced in our Divine Services. During the Lenten season, we will not sing Alleluia or the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory be to God on high…”). Flowers are also removed from the altar. As we continue further into the Lenten season, the fast intensifies and we will notice some omissions from our Services:
These omissions are a fast for our eyes and ears. Perhaps it will seem awkward to be missing these things, but that is the point. Lent is a penitential season. Our celebration is muted. But this also will highlight the air of celebration on Easter Sunday when all of these sights and sounds return to our worship as we will rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord.
Grant that I your passion view with repentant grieving.
Let me not bring shame to you by unholy living.
How could I refuse to shun every sinful pleasure
Since for me God’s only Son suffered without measure?
(Christian Worship 98:5)