An Introduction to Lent, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week
Every year, churches all over the world participate in specific rhythms of worship that are designed to orient our hearts towards Jesus and His work in the world. Christmas and Easter are by far the best known but between these two comes another. One designed to show us our need for Jesus and invite us to follow Him. This rhythm is Lent.
Historically, Lent was marked as an intentional time of discipline where followers of Christ would engage in habits that directed their attention towards Him. Today, Lent has been hijacked and transformed into a tool for self-improvement. What was once about Jesus now tends to be about calorie intake.
There is nothing wrong with self-improvement but Lent, as a season, is meant to do more than reignite new years resolutions. It intended to inspire affections by joining us to a retelling of Jesus’ story. Lent can do this because it is participatory, we engage it with our presence, our practices, and our prayers. Through it, we experience, not just hear, the story of Jesus.
How do we participate and engage with Jesus story during Lent?
Lent is a 40 day period of time that begins on Ash Wednesday, includes Holy Week, and ends on Easter. Each of these moments communicates the story of Jesus and give us a chance to participate in it’s telling.
Ash Wednesday is a time to remember that without Jesus we are slaves to sin and death, in deep need of life and grace. In the Bible, people would often mourn their sin by wearing sackcloth covering themselves in ash. Ash Wednesday invokes those images, not to shame, but to cultivate humility. Ash Wednesday reminds us that Jesus entered the mess of our sin and ash to extend love and grace.
The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter point us towards the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. In those 40 days we see Jesus entering a desolate space and overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil. The wilderness way is it at its core the of the way of the cross. Each temptation offers Jesus a shortcut, a way to avoid the pain by avoiding the cross. But Jesus rejects shortcuts and chooses faithfulness. And in doing so, He chooses us, because the way of the cross is the way of rescue and redemption.
Holy Week is the final week of Lent, where what is symbolized in the 40 days becomes a reality. Holy Week focuses on Jesus journey to the cross culminating with Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death. It is our sin that put Christ on the cross, and good Friday is meant to be the dark silence before the celebration of Resurrection Easter morn. Good Friday helps us celebrate Resurrection, it helps us experience the goodness of Jesus’ story.
These different pieces act as an invitation; an invitation to experience the story of Jesus, to engage Him in the fullness of His work, and to know––deep down––the love of Jesus.
And, at the same time it is an invitation to follow. Ash Wednesday invites you to experience the gospel and repent of sin and experience grace, made possible by the work accomplished in Holy Week. The 40 days call us to be like Jesus, to pick up our cross and walk where He leads, even when it takes us through the wilderness.
Jesus story engages and call us. It show us that we are more desperate than we ever believed yet more loved than we ever imagined. It speaks truth and value, and it beckons us to follow.