Today marks the beginning of Lent, the period of forty days (excluding Sundays) when Christians remember the forty day fast of our Lord Jesus in the desert, before starting His earthly ministry. We also seek to participate in that fast by some degree of self-denial. As a token of this, some churches hold the custom of making ashes from the palm crosses of the previous year and, in the Ash Wednesday service, marking the foreheads of participants with ash. As a sign that this is also a period of penitence, many churches also remove items that are colourful or ornate, or they cover them over with cloths of a drab or purple colour, both of which signify penitence.
Lent is also the period of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, when we will remember the arrest, trial and death of Jesus, and His resurrection. In the days when new Christians were baptised on Easter Day, Lent was a period of preparation for baptism, of learning what the faith is all about. For many it is still a time of study, learning and sharing insights with fellow Christians.
Some of the Sundays during Lent have a particular significance. The Fourth Sunday in Lent is kept in Britain as Mothering Sunday (commercially referred to as ‘Mothers’ Day’). This derives from the time when people would return to the original church which had planted their own (the ‘mother church’) for a great celebration, and is linked with servants in great houses being given this Sunday off to visit their families and show their appreciation to their mothers.The Fifth Sunday is Passion Sunday and the Sixth Palm Sunday (see separate entries), the Sunday which begins Holy Week (again see separate entry).
The suggested prayer is based on a hymn by John Samuel Bewley Monsell, who lived in the 19th century:
I am hungering and thirsting for You, my Lord – feed me with Yourself, the living bread that came down from heaven. I travel over rough paths in my life – guide me, help me and refresh me with Your love. The desert still opens out ahead of me – living water, rise up within me for ever and ever. Amen.