Forty Days Of Lent

The Past Observance of Lent

Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. Since these new members were to be received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community. . When Christianity was legalized in 325, Lent became a period of preparation for the entire people of God.

In the past, Lent was a period of penitence. It was a time for mourning, solemnity, and sadness. A hymn for Holy Week says, Come and Mourn with Me Awhile. The mood is expressed in the penitential color, violet, for this season, a violet veil was hung between the nave and chancel. Often the altar cross was veiled in violet as a reminder of the penitential character of the season. In keeping with this somber mood, the Alleluia and the Gloria in Excelsis were omitted from the liturgy. Weddings during Lent were forbidden. Organs were stopped. Public entertainment was outlawed. Often during lent royalty dressed in black. Lent was a time to be sorry for one’s sins. It was also a time for the re-living of the sufferings of Christ. When one’s Savior is on his way to death in your behalf, it is most unseemly to be frivolous and joyful.

Fasting as a means of spiritual discipline was a part of past Lenten observance. From the time of the Apostles, Friday, the day of Jesus’ death, was a day of fasting. During Holy Week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday were days of fasting. In the 4th century, fasting was extended to the entire period of Lent.

The Present Observance of Lent

Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number 40 is connected with the forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and overcoming the devil's temptations while preparing for His ministry. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self-examination, and repentance. This season is equal in importance to the Season of Advent.

The sanctuary color for most of Lent is purple. This is the color of royalty, and so anticipates through the suffering and death of Jesus, the coming resurrection and hope of newness that will be celebrated on Easter Sunday.

Lent begins on the first Sunday after the spring equinox and is observed as the forty days of Christ’s life before he was crucified on the cross and rose from the dead on Easter morning.

Today, the season of Lent still commences with Ash Wednesday is observed by Western Christian churches, especially Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran. Ash Wednesday is a time to emulate the journey of Jesus Christ; to experience the decent into death (the self-denial of Lent) and the rebirth of life (Easter). The ashes are made by burning palm fronds that have been saved from the previous year's Palm Sunday; the ashes are then blessed by a priest -- blessed ashes having been used in God's rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).

The main ritual of Ash Wednesday, which was introduced by Pope Gregory I in 1091,takes place within a church service. The minister blesses the ashes of an incinerated palm branch. The clergyman then places the sign of the cross on the forehead or hand of the worshiper with the ashes and says, “Remember that you are dust, in unto dust you shall return.” The custom symbolizes an Old Testament practice of public penance in which people cover themselves with ashes and clothe their bodies with Sackcloth. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).

Palms are the symbol of which as told in the Bible when the people lined the way waving palms branches as Jesus triumphantly rode into Jerusalem on the colt of and Ass as told in the Gospel of Luke 19:19-38. In Luke 19:38 the disciples shouted among the crowd, “Blessed is He comes in the name of the Lord.!” Peace in heaven and glory in the Highest!” Only Jesus knew that it was to his death he was traveling into the city.

Holy week observances continue with the somber service of Maundy Thursday and falls on the Thursday before Easter the service is one of prayer and reflection and quiet peace. Roman Catholic Maundy Thursday services include a foot washing ceremony.

Each participant washes the feet of 12 people, thereby commemorating Christ's washing of his disciples' feet in the Upper Room before his last supper. After the Passover meal in the Upper Room, and prior to Judas' betrayal of him, Jesus walked to Garden of Gethsemane, prayed, and felt anguish. The name "Gethsemane", comes from the Hebrew Gat Shmanim, meaning "oil press". The garden is thought to have been located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, where there were olive trees and olive presses. This holy day is associated with the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29), the agony in the Garden (Luke 22:39-46), and the arrest of Jesus (Matthew 26:46-50). Maundy arises from the Latin word mandatum meaning commandment. This is the first word in Christ's statement at the Last Supper, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34)

Tenebrae service

Some churches observe another medieval custom, which has had a popular revival in the late 20th century -- that of the service of Tenebrae. This service may be held held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, in the evening. It features a series of songs and readings dealing with Holy Week. It was originally sung before dawn and marked by the gradual extinguishing of candles before the breaking of the light of day. Many churches continue the practice of gradually extinguishing candles, though at an evening service, followed by silent departure from the sanctuary.

The Last Supper: The Significance

The Last Supper is described in three of the four New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here are some of the life-changing highlights, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. First, Jesus predicts He will suffer soon after this meal and it will be His last meal prior to finishing His work on behalf of the kingdom of God (Luke 22:15-16). Second, Jesus gives His followers symbols of remembrance for His body and His blood sacrificed on behalf of all mankind. "And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me'" (Luke 22:19).

Third, Jesus provides a very important principle for living a Christian life: the greatest are those who serve others, not those who expect to be served (Luke 22:26). Finally, Jesus provides hope to his followers: "and I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:29-30).

For the last two millennia, the Last Supper has inspired people to live by faith in Jesus Christ, by serving others instead of following the worldly influences of expecting to be served.

Finally Jesus was scourged and suffered as predicted before he was hung on the cross. The Cross- was by Roman standards an insult to the Jewish people. The worst was to be hung on the cross upside down and not allowed to be buried by sundown, as is the custom of the Jewish faith.

Good Friday

Crucifixion: An Excruciating form of Execution

Crucifixion was a practice that originated with the Persians and was later passed on to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians. The Romans perfected it as a method of capital punishment, which caused maximum pain and suffering over a significant period of time. In fact, the word "excruciate" (meaning, “to cause great agony, torment”) comes from the Latin for "from, or out of, the cross.”

Crucifixion: Jesus Faced a Horrible Death

Crucifixion typically began with a scourging or flogging of the victim’s back. The Romans used a whip called a flagrum, which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The number of blows given to Jesus is not recorded; however, the number of blows in Jewish law was 39 (one less than the 40 called for in the Torah, to prevent a counting error). During the scourging, the skin was ripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of tissue and bone. Extreme blood loss occurred, often causing death, or at least unconsciousness. In addition to the flogging, Jesus faced severe beating and torment by the Roman soldiers, including the plucking of His beard and the piercing of His scalp with a crown of thorns.

Jesus was nailed on the cross between two thieves and in his agony said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Luke 23:14) Of the two thieves one was repentant and said, “We are punished justly for our deeds but this man has done nothing wrong. Then the thief said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him saying, “I tell you the truth you shall be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:40-43 The gospel of Mathew 27:43 speaks of Christ as he has suffered till the ninth hour and cries out to God in an anguished voice “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabuchthani?” – Which means MY God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and in Mathew 27:50 Jesus cries out again and gave up his spirit. The Gospel of Luke tells the story in a somewhat different way. It was now about he sixth hour and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23: 44-46 NIV

On the third day he arose from the dead and walked this earth among men. The prophecies were fulfilled and on Easter Morning the children of God rejoice for his resurrection. The scriptures say that on the morning of the first day of the week just after sunrise Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the body with spices. But when they got there the tomb was empty Mark 16:1-5

Many Churches observe the sunrise service as a time of new beginnings and to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The Sunrise service is often celebrated out of doors. Such celebrations are especially popular with Protestants. Many times a breakfast is served before the service.

From the Gospels it can be seen how much Jesus suffered for our sins. No human being could ever endure such pain and agony for a people of sinners as Jesus did that day. Ancient texts in the Messianic prophecy have come to verify much of what Christianity and the Jewish religions have known and believed all through the centuries about the life of Christ. In his 33 years he accomplished more to save mankind from his own destruction than anyone ever will again.

Messianic prophecy is the collection of over 300 predictions in the Old Testament about the future Messiah of the Jewish people. These predictions were written by multiple authors, in numerous books, over approximately 1,000 years. Messianic Prophecy is so dramatic today, because with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the reliability of the Septugint version of the Old Testament (both of which have been proven to exist prior to the time Jesus walked on the earth) you can be assured that these prophecies were not “conspired” after-the-fact.

“Jesus said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’” Luke 24:44 (NIV)

Jesus said, “Go unto all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16: 15-16

In one last appearance to the disciples Jesus said to them “Peace be with you.” Luke 24:7 this is what I wish for the world in this time of trial. Peace!

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