Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 8/3/2011
Today members of the Christian community mark the beginning of Lent. Lent is a period of reflection, meditation and preparation for Easter, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus the Christ and the celebration of His resurrection.
Lent is generally understood as being forty days long. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. However, different denominations determine the forty days differently.This practice was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but many, such as Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans do.
Today is Ash Wednesday and in services in the Catholic and some Protestant communities, Christians have their foreheads marked in the sign of the cross with the ashes from burnt palms of the Palm Sunday from the previous year, by a priest, a deacon or a layperson like a Eucharistic minister. The mark is worn for the rest of the day.
Ash Wednesday also symbolises the Christian belief that humans were created from dust, and will return to dust and ash when they die. This belief, however, is offset by the belief that the death of Christ allowed for people to be more than simply dust; it allowed for an eternal life in heaven, outside the body. It can either be a stark reminder of what will happen if Christ’s commands are not followed, or simply a symbol that because of Christ, one's spirit does not die with one’s body.
While there are no biblical descriptions of Ash Wednesday in either Roman Catholic or Protestant Bibles, however, there are numerous descriptions of people using ashes to mourn or to express penitence. References to ash and penitence can be found in the books of Samuel, Job, Esther, Matthew and Daniel.
Lent is a time of renewal, a time of spiritual transformation. Yesterday, I was privileged to lead the opening devotion and conduct a Bible Study at the Pacific Conference of Churches Programme Advisory Group meeting in Nadi. The group was encouraged to reflect on transformation and renewal based on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
This year’s Ash Wednesday scriptural texts focus on true fasting, in particular on Jesus view of fasting (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).
Last year, at the start of my Lenten journey, I received an email with a meditation on Lenten Discipline. Regardless of our faith journey or spiritual expression, it is something worth reflecting on:
Fast from judging others; Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; Feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; Feast on the reality of all light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; Feast on God's providence.
Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; Feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that sustains.
May your week and your Lenten journey be a time of renewal and transformation.
Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.