Ummmm… You’ve got something on your face

By Bryan Marvel

I walked into my dorm after a full day of classes and I saw a few friends gathered together in the lobby. I went over to say hi and noticed that two of my friends had black smudges on their foreheads. I proceeded to inform them as though they had no idea. They looked at each other and then at me. The looks on their faces communicated, “What? Bryan, don't be an idiot.” Once I saw their expressions, I knew that I had just stepped in it, but had no idea what I stepped in.  They could tell that I was clueless, so they told me they had just come from mass. It was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

I was incredibly embarrassed.  Mostly because they knew that I was a Christian and this was something I should've known. In an effort to minimize my embarrassment, I played it off like I knew what they were talking about and that the start of Lent had merely slipped my mind.  The truth was, I had no idea. I never grew up in a church that recognized Ash Wednesday or Lent. I quickly found a reason to excuse myself and left the conversation.

Now, you might think that after that awkward encounter I would have taken some time to investigate the meaning and practice of Lent. I didn't. I let another 10 years pass before I grew curious enough to begin engaging in the season of Lent. 

For those of you who, like me, never grew up in a church that recognized the season of Lent, it's a 40 day period before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday. The purpose of the lenten season is to help Christians prepare for Easter. It's a season characterized by fasting. And the 40 days of Lent is connected to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness while being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).

In the Protestant tradition in which I grew up, we acknowledged Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter). The following week, we'd hold a Good Friday Service followed by an Easter Celebration two days later. And before you knew it, Easter was gone just as quickly as it came.

But Lent is an intentional time to engage in self-examination and repentance. It's a way to posture ourselves in order to remind ourselves how desperately we need God. It's ultimately a way to prepare ourselves to fully celebrate the resurrection.

People have a wide variety of ways they engage in Lent. Many people fast and pray. Others, do special scripture readings and devotions. And others intentionally seek to serve folks in the community.

With tomorrow being Ash Wednesday, and as we kick off our first blog series, we are going to be sharing different stories and reflections of the way that God is leading us through the season of Lent. We hope that you will follow along and engage with us as we ready ourselves for Easter.