Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. During the 40 days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and alms giving. “The readings for the Sundays in Lent lead us in examining our life to discover attitudes, practices, and habits that are incongruous with the new life into which we have been born in the Holy Spirit. Lent is a time of penitence, of putting out of our lives all that remains of the old life or has crept in once more. It is a time of special prayer, for without the help of the Holy Spirit nothing will be accomplished in us.
“In speaking of Lent it is difficult to avoid the word “fasting,” which is misunderstood and regarded with disfavor by many. Yet it cannot be ignored or disregarded, for both the historic Epistle (Joel 2:12-19) and the Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21) for Ash Wednesday speak of it, and Luther’s Small Catechism brings us face to face with the term (Sacrament of the Altar: Who receives this sacrament worthily?). Surely it is to be preferred to “keeping Lent.” For practical purposes fasting may be defined as the avoidance of anything that could interfere with, distract from, or disturb in the preparations for the new life with the risen Christ. This may call for a restriction in diet as excessive eating or drinking may cause dullness and apathy which are far from conducive to a searching self-examination and to resolute spiritual life. On the other hand, should the one who has determined to fast in such a way confine his dietary limitations to Lent and return to his old habits when at Easter he rises with Christ to a new life?
“A number of questions arise also regarding the fad of “keeping Lent.” Does such “keeper” of Lent smoke so heavily,” drink so heavily, consume excessive amounts of recreation, or work such lengthy hours, “that his or her indulgence interferes with the preparations for the new life in Christ? If so, is he or she to resume his or her excess when at Easter the new life begins? The same applies to” any of the excessive habits or our lives. “Whatever is done, or not done, in observance of Lent has value and purpose only if it serves to prepare and train for the newness of life, for the new life to be entered at Easter with the risen Christ.
“Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the paschal feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God” (The Sermon and the Propers:Volume II, 45-46),
Dear Lord Jesus Christ, it is with humble and contrite hearts that we enter this day the holy season of Lent to meditate on Your bitter suffering and death that you, the innocent Lamb of God, endured for us. With deep sorrow we confess that also our sins, which justly anger God and call for our punishment. were the cause of Your suffering and dying. God chose to spare us by laying upon you the iniquity of us all.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Be gracious to us.
Spare us, good Lord. Amen.