A Time of Reflection

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

On Wednesday, much of the Christian community begins the season of Lent, and begins the march toward Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar.

A little history

The Bible teaches that for 40 days after His baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist,

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Jesus Christ went alone to fast and pray in preparation for the work set before Him. While alone, He was tempted by Satan and Jesus asked God for strength to do the work for which He was sent to earth.

The Rev. Harold Demus, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Ironton, said 40 days is a time frame that is repeated throughout the Bible. For instance, in Genesis, Chapter 7, in the story of Noah and the

ark, the Bible said it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Then again, after Christ's resurrection, the theme of 40 days is repeated again.

"After Christ rose, He remained with His disciples 40 days and appeared to them at His will before ascending into heaven," Demus said.

After the establishment of the Christian Church, Lent was historically a time when those who wanted to publicly profess their Christian faith took instruction in doctrine and were baptized, the Rev. Mike Poole, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church said

The Rev. Anthony Batt, associate pastor at St. Joseph and St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic churches, said the word has its origins in the hope of the end of a cold and bitter winter and the thought of looking forward to spring. "The word 'Lent' comes from the word 'length,'" Batt said. "With the lengthening of the days we know it is heading toward springtime and of course the time of Easter and the resurrection."

A time to think

All three clergy said Lent is a time of self-reflection:

Who am I that Christ was willing to die on the cross for my sins?

Lent is meant to be a time of self-examination and a time of reflection on the greatest event the world has ever known, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Batt said.

"It is a time of preparation for Easter, a time of doing some penance and sacrifice in order to prepare ourselves for that. Most of the year we celebrate the fact that our Lord died for us, but this is a time to reflect on our own selfishness, and take more of a penitential stance," Batt said.

Batt said he is reminded of

the Bible verse Joel 2:13, "Rend your hearts and not your garment, and turn unto the Lord your God."

He said it is meant to inspire believers to have a change of heart in their approach to life.

Demus said that during the Lenten season this year, members of his church will be asked to mediate on the words of Psalms 51, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit."

"I think that's the most wonderful prayer in the whole Bible," Demus said. "And, I don't mean to take anything away from the Lord's Prayer and other prayers, but from a human point of view, a prayer for you and me to pray, that one is the most wonderful one in all the scripture."

Demus said Lent is also a time to think not only of our sins that separate us from God, but think also of why God created us in the first place, and what is our purpose on earth.

"God has a purpose for each of us and when we know what that purpose is, it is joy," Demus said.

Ash Wednesday

"For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return."

- Genesis 3:19.

Poole said Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season, is symbolic of man's mortality, with the ashes applied to the forehead symbolic of the dust of the earth.

"Some Christians are uncomfortable with that, the ashes applied to the forehead," Demus said. "But the ashes do remind us of our mortality. … It is one of the most solemn days of the year for Christians. I think the ashes symbolize the fall of humanity into sin. Just look around you and you realize it's true. When we accept the ashes, we are saying that 'I, too, am a part of that sinful rebellion.'"

Poole said Ash Wednesday not only is meant to turn thoughts toward one's mortality, but on the loving God who is with us through life and even until the very end of life.

"Even in the midst of your mortality, the darkest moment of your mortality, the light of God shines through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit," he said. "Even in our darkest moment, the light of Christ can overcome that darkness."

Prayer and fasting

Think of Lent and often what comes to mind is not only time spent in prayer, but fasting of some form. Fasting is mentioned often in the Bible. But Demus said it is not a popular concept in the 21st century.

"Few Protestants really do anything serious in regard to fasting," Demus said. "Some say 'Well, I'll give up this or that during Lent.' But I believe that what the Lord really wishes for us to give up is our own will, and instead allow the Lord to guide you. I think what he desires from us is our obedience."

For many, Lent is a time to eschew something they love- meat or desserts or whatever, as a gesture to remind them of what Christ gave up for us - His life. Batt said often what begins with Lent becomes a lesson lived the rest of the year.

"What I've found is that during Lent, people often give up something, and what happens is, they learn they can do without it and continue to do without it, and it is not just something that they do for 6 weeks out of the year. It becomes a habit."

Unifying thoughts

Poole said as Christians, regardless of denomination,

Lent and Easter and the story of Christ's suffering and death are a unifying force. After all, as Christians, we are one in the body of Christ, wherever in the world we may be.

Demus said he hopes that during Lent, Christians will reflect also on the state of the world we live in and the chaos that surrounds us daily.

"I think it is heartbreaking and must surely break the heart of God that there is so much sin in the world," Demus said. "There is so much pain in the world.

This year I believe we should pray for change that will create a more friendly world and that the nations begin to realize we are all brothers and sisters."

Demus said he wishes the more people would attend church during Lent as they do on Easter,

and hear not only the story of Christ's triumph over sin, but about sin itself.

"We have some pretty empty churches around this town and I think it cuts across all denominations," Demus said. "We don't want to be told about sin, but we have an eternity to think about and a Holy God we must stand before some day to render an account."

Demus said the joy of Easter and Christ's triumph over death is more meaningful when Christians reflect on what He did to have that victory. By observing Lent, Christians more fully understand that.

"Without Christ's saving death on the cross, we are sinners without hope," Demus said.

"I don't believe we have real peace until we know the price of that peace."