Ash Wednesday is the start of the Lenten journey of 40 weekdays (Monday through Saturday) that takes the church to the eve of Easter. We had our service at St. Andrews UMC on the 17th of February. We had a time of scripture reading, singing, a short lesson, and communion. This year is unique in that Ash Wednesday had Communion and Easter falls on the first Sunday of April and we will also have Communion. Now, I don't know about you, but for me bookending Lent with Communion is a special gift. This is going to be a very interesting Lenten season.
Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, therefore, 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 many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. This season of the year is equal only to the Season of Advent in importance in the Christian year, and is part of the second major grouping of Christian festivals and sacred time that includes Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost.
The color used in the sanctuary for most of Lent is purple, red violet, or dark violet . These colors symbolize both the pain and suffering leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus as well as the suffering of humanity and the world under sin. Purple is also 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 in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Christian churches that observe Lent focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate Easter, and the resurrected life that Christians live and hope for.
Many modern Protestants consider the observation of Lent to be a choice, rather than an obligation. They may decide to give up a favorite food or drink (e.g. chocolate, alcohol) or activity (e.g. going to the movies, playing video games) for Lent, or they may instead decide to take on a Lenten discipline such as devotions, volunteering for charity work, and so forth.
In addition to the service we passed out Lenten devotionals supplied by the Society of Saint Andrew. http://www.endhunger.org/ We used these last year and they were very well received and used by the churches. I encouraged everyone to use this as a preparation during Lent. I have found that I have such a busy life that if I don't use all the resources that I can find to prepare my heart before Easter or Christmas, I get to that special day carrying the load of my daily life and missing what God had for me. I'm sure I'm not the only one who experiences this. So I encourage you to do whatever you can to prepare yourself for what God has prepared for you this Lenten season.