For hundreds of years, Christians have set aside time to prepare their hearts for the celebration of Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Easter was the biggest day of the year in the early church, and the worship service often included publicly baptizing new Christians. These early Christians believed that a person getting baptized needed time before the ceremony for reflection, fasting, and prayer. By the middle of the fourth century, the church referred to this time of preparation before baptism as Lent.
In time, Lent’s focus shifted away from baptism to remembering Jesus’s suffering and death. The church invited everyone to participate in forty days of contemplation, fasting, and repentance to ready their hearts for Easter. (The forty days is approximate; you do not count Sundays in the officially tally.) Each year Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
It would be easy to dismiss Lent this year. Almost understandable. Haven’t we remembered enough suffering and death? Haven’t we fasted enough? Do we need ashes this year to remind us that life is fleeting?
But these are the things that God chose when He chose us. You see, Lent is a season of remembering a God who chose to love, knowing that the cost of that love meant choosing the cross that Friday in Jerusalem. He chose that cross willingly, knowing that the darkness of His death on Friday would give way to the victory of His resurrection on Sunday.
It may feel like you are in the shadows of your own cross right now. You may feel the darkness closing in and hope may feel lost. However, in this darkness, may the lessons of Lent stay with you. May the ashes remind you of what is true, even in the darkest night.
The ashes remind us that no matter what, Sunday is always coming.
Because with God, the worst things are never the last things.