I write today about Spring Training. But, no, not the baseball kind. The Spiritual kind. Yes, we do actually need a good Spring Training for our spiritual lives, just as the baseball players need a good Spring Training to learn the game all over again and get themselves ready for another long and successful season. We need a good Spiritual Spring Training to get ourselves ready again for a long and successful Spiritual experience in this life and our life for eternity.
And this is where this thing called “Lent” comes in. And it so happens that today, Wednesday, March 9, is “Ash Wednesday,” the beginning of Lent, so it’s a very appropriate occasion to talk about it again.
Lent is a special time that many in the church set aside every year for a Spiritual Spring Training. It is a time for a return to the basics, to the fundamentals of our faith. It is a time to remember, ponder, and apply again the most important thing God has done for us in His Son Jesus.
We’ve gone over some of this before, but I believe it’s always good to ask, “Where did Lent come from and what does it mean?” Since we’re in our Spiritual Spring Training, let’s go back and review the basics.
• The original period of Lent was 40 hours. It was spent in fasting to commemorate the suffering of Christ. Then it became 30 days, then 36, and finally, in the reign of Charlemagne, about 800 AD, 40 days, not including the Sundays.
• The 40 days of Lent correspond to Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil.
• The number 40 is used throughout Scripture to denote a complete and thorough experience. For The Great Flood it rained 40 days and 40 nights. The Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before coming into The Promised Land. These were, therefore, complete and thorough experiences.
• The date of Lent is determined by the date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea determined in 325 AD that Easter would be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.
• The earliest that Lent can begin is Feb. 5, which is quite unusual.
• The latest that Lent can start is March 10. It won’t be that late again until 2038, but this year with Ash Wednesday on March 9, it is within one day of its latest possible date.
• Lent comes from the old English word for spring, “lenten” (when the days “lengthen” with more sunlight).
• The wearing of sackcloth and ashes is a custom for showing repentance going back to the Old Testament times. Many Christians remember this custom on Ash Wednesday by marking foreheads with an ash cross, using the ashes of the previous year’s burned Palm Sunday palms.
• The day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday, is celebrated in many parts of the world with feasting. The French call it Mardi Gras. The feasting comes from the custom of using up household fats prior to the 40 days of Lenten fasting when no fat is used.
These are interesting facts, but they are not really what is truly important for us.
These last two are the most important ...
• The one important fact in your life is this — that Jesus died that your sins can be forgiven. A fact so simple ... so familiar to many ... so ignored by many ... so unknown to so many ... yet so huge, so wonderful that it is hard to grasp. That is why Christians observe Lent — to set 40 days aside to think more deeply about Christ’s death and what it means in our lives. And finally,
• Lent gives you another chance to think about your sins and what it means that Jesus died for them. It gives you another chance to review your life, another chance to grow in faith and love.
Yes, Lent is a great Spiritual Spring Training for us Christians. A time to be close to God – closer than you have ever been. It is a time to attend worship more regularly, to pray more often, to read the Bible more diligently, and to invite others to do these great things with you.
This Lenten season can be your Spiritual Spring Training. Perhaps the most important 40 days in your life — your life here and now — and in determining where you will spend eternity.
May God bless you as you ponder these significant things in this significant time.
Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on Hwy. 314 in Fayetteville, between Lowe’s and The Pavilion. He invites anyone without a church presently, or anyone seeking a Spiritual Spring Training to come to Sunday Worship at 9:15 (Contemporary) or 11:15 (Pipe Organ). Classes for ALL at 10:20. For more information log on at www.princeofpeacefayette.com or call 770-461-3403. Also of note is that Prince of Peace has recently joined the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), a new denomination which holds to the strong centered and traditional doctrines of Lutheranism.