Local Christians celebrate Lent

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kendra Bolling

With the passing of Ash Wednesday, Christians have entered the 40-day period know as Lent.

Local ministers described the period leading up to Easter as a time of self-denial, repentance, reflection, revival and commitment.

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“Ash Wednesday service is one of the major aspects of our theology, which is grounded in the teachings of John Wesley,” said the Rev. David McVay, pastor of First United Methodist Church. “Repentance is one of the main pillars in our beliefs.”

According to McVay, Ash Wednesday’s focus is on repentance that emphasizes the reorientation of one’s life.

“Through repentance, we open ourselves more to what God seeks to give us,” McVay said. “To hear the call to repentance, but not in a negative way, but that we open ourselves more fully to God.”

McVay said the traditional Ash Wednesday service, where one kneels and the sign of a cross is put in ashes on one’s forehead, is symbolic of repentance.

“The Old Testament references ashes and (their) connection to repentance. It’s an outward sign of repentance. We hope there is a correspondence in the heart,” McVay said.

According to the Rev. Jeffrey Gibson of the Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, the church has been celebrating Lent since the Sixth Century.

Gibson said Lent includes special days of repentance and restitution of sins. He said Christians are reminded that they were once dust and to dust they will return.

“(We are) reminded this time of the year that our physical bodies are not going to live forever. The church gives us this time to reflect and repent for our individual and corporate sins before Easter Sunday morning,” Gibson said.

Like Methodist churches, this is a time of fasting or self-denial in the Episcopal Church.

Gibson says the Episcopal Church encourages giving up things that are either bad for you or demanding of your time, so you can devote yourself to prayer.

“The liturgy challenges our people to be in perspective and to be intentional in examining their lives and faithful in giving of their time and talent to the church,” Gibson said.

“And to be thankful for what Jesus has given.”

For local Catholics, Lent is the holiest season of the year.

It is in celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, said the Rev. Eamon Miley of St. Martin Catholic Church said.

Miley said Lent is a time for the church to prepare like Jesus was when he went into the desert for 40 days to prepare for his ministry.

“Ash Wednesday begins and reminds us of our death and that we must think not of the flesh, but of the spirit,” Miley said.

He said that Easter Sunday is a time for revival and commitment of the spirit and the season of Lent is a time of preparation.

According to Miley, Lent evolved in time with early Christians having the Pentecostal experience.

Eventually non-Jews were brought into the faith, and Lent was the period where the Catechumens, or people preparing to become Christians, were taught and brought into the church.

Miley said Lent was the final preparation. This is when early Christians were under instruction in the knowledge and understanding of faith.

“The whole period was to prepare them for Holy Saturday night,” Miley said.

“(It was a) radical time; radical people. To celebrate a radical mystery that God himself became man, suffered and died,” Miley said.