The resurrection of Jesus is our great salvation. To prepare to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection (Easter), the Church sets aside a season of preparation. In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea recorded the first reference to the specific number of days for Lent: forty. This forty-day preparation was first prescribed for baptismal candidates and became known as Lent (from the Old English word for “spring”). During this period, the candidates were examined in preparation for Baptism at the Easter (or Paschal) Vigil. Later, these forty days were associated with Jesus’ forty days in the desert prior to His temptation. The forty day period is is symbolic of other periods of 40 in Scripture: the forty years Moses and the children of Israel were detained from entering the Promised Land, Elijah’s forty days spent in the wilderness, Noah had rain for forty days and forty nights, the Israelites wondered forty years to the promised land, and Jonah gave the city of Nineveh forty days to repent.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day season of repentance and preparation called Lent. The name is derived from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence and a reminder of human mortality. The color for Ash Wednesday is black, while the liturgical color for Lent is violet. Lent is a season of forty days and concludes on Holy Saturday–the Saturday before Easter. During Lent the Church takes to opportunity to focus on our need to repent of our sins and our need of a Savior from sin. The Sundays during this season are not counted as a part of the forty-day season; the Sundays are not “of Lent” but “in Lent.” Thus even during Lent, while the worship services that congregations typically offer are penitential and solemn, the the Gospel appointed to Sundays in Lent do not speak of Christ’s Passion, rather they prefigure the great Easter victory. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s proof that our salvation has been completed and that the promise of life forever with our God and Father has been secured. The ritual observances of Lent are concrete reminders of the greater solemnity of this season, yet in all things, Lutherans emphasize the Gospel of Christ and the hope of Easter as central even to this penitential season.
The Lent Quarantine
The observation of Lent is characterized by the liturgical omission of the joyous Alleluias in the Divine Service. After the Epistle we hear the Tract or Verse instead. The Gloria in Excelsis also is not sung. Some congregations choose to silence the organ or limit its use to accompanying congregational singing, thus there are no instrumental preludes, postludes, or anthems. Though less enforced today, it has been traditional to not schedule weddings during Lent. Some congregation honor the Lenten quarantine by choosing to not place flowers in the chancel and some will cover crucifixes and crosses with veils of violet or unbleached white linen. The quarantine sets the tone for the liturgy of Lent which is patient preparation and waiting for the climactic liturgies and services of Holy Week.