As early as the mid-fourth century, Christians have observed a time of preparation before the Easter celebration. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. The forty days of Lent recall the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:1-2) and Moses' 40 day fast on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28).

It is a time of simplicity and preparation.

Principal Themes
  • Penitence
  • Baptismal renewal
  • Preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil
  • Prayer, fasting, and service
  • Confession of sin rooted in the promise of God that comes through the cross of Christ (Excerpted from
Smeared in Sin, Washed in Love
With ash and soot we begin this Lenten season with confession; we begin with Psalm 51; we begin on our knees. Today this ancient prayer placed on our lips becomes new again: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions." We speak our truths from the shadow of our sin, the very shadow that marks our mortality. Like ash traced upon our foreheads, we are marked with the reality of our frailties and failings. It is stark reminder that sin and death are smeared all over us. From this inevitable reality, we cry out for mercy! For as bold as it is to name our sin and sinful ways that lead to death, it is all the more audacious to summon our God! To summon the one who actually has the power to do something about sin and the ways of death! On this day of penitence, through the work and witness of Christ Jesus, we brashly summon God to come, to hear our prayer, and to listen to our confession.

So, with our truths laid bare, we confess our unfaithfulness to God, our lackluster love for our neighbors, our neglect of suffering and injustice in the world. In the same breath, we ask God to wash us, to purge us, and to create in us clean hearts. The smears of sin are washed clean through the love of Christ. And yet, we will leave worship this day still carrying the cross-shaped trace of sin and death upon us. It is a reminder that, even amid our confession, we continue this Lenten season to listen for the perpetual call to return to the Lord our God who is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13). (From

Barbara Brown Taylor opens up a new understanding of Lent in her book, Home By Another Way, when she writes: “Do not bother looking for Lent in your bible, because there was no such thing back then. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted forty hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom for spending forty days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian-adrenaline was over and believers had gotten on with the rest of their lives.

When the world did not end as Jesus himself had said it would, his followers stopped expecting so much from God or from themselves. They hung a wooden cross on the wall, and settled back into their more or less comfortable routines, remembering their once passionate devotion to God the way they remembered the other enthusiasms of their youth. They thought to themselves: “Oh, to be young again, and to believe everything is possible.”

Little by little, Christians became devoted to their comforts instead: the soft couch, the flannel sheets, the leg of lamb roasted with rosemary. These things made them feel safe and cared for – if not by God, then by themselves – which many of them considered more reliable.

They decided there was no contradiction between being comfortable and being Christian, and before long it was very hard to pick them out from the population at large. They no longer distinguished themselves by their bold love for one another. They did not get arrested for championing the poor. They blended in. They avoided extremes. They decided to be nice instead of holy, and God let out this guttural moan.

Someone in the crowd heard God that day, and had the good sense to suggest it was time to call Christians back to their senses, and the Bible offered some clues how to do that.

Where to begin? Oh, yes, Israel. They spent forty years in the wilderness learning to trust the Lord. Elijah spent forty days there before hearing the still, small voice of God on the same mountain where Moses spent forty days listening to God give the law. There was also Matthew’s story from today about Jesus’ own forty days in the wilderness – a period of preparation between his baptism and his ministry – during which we already know he was tested. It was hard. It was awful. It was necessary. Those of us who believe the story have proof that it is humanly possible to remain loyal to God.

So the church announced a season of Lent, from the old English word Lenten, meaning “spring” – not only a reference to the season before Easter, but also an invitation to a springtime for the soul. Forty days to cleanse the system and open the eyes to what remains when all comfort is gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves."