This Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Followed by Fat Tuesday (Madi Gras), Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the annual Lenten Season. Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a special period of fasting, repentance, personal study, moderation, and spiritual discipline. Of course, these activities can be observed any time of the year, but the purpose of doing during the 40 days of Lent is to set aside additional and particular time for reflection on Jesus Christ - his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. The 40 days are to be marked by repentance. Ash is sometimes rubbed on the foreheads of Christians during Ash Wednesday services as a sign of repentance (e.g., 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21).
As with all liturgical season, Lent can be legalistically observed. There are no biblical warrants to observe it and it should be observed out of choice, not any sort of obligation. Elliot Grudem articulates it well, "...any special attention to the Lenten Season that honors God must include heart-level repentance and real faith, not external obedience to church tradition. So the Lenten Season and its encouragement to take an extended time to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ provides us with an opportunity to honor God...There can be a real value in marking this season, but only if done with a heart that seeks to honor God."
Lent is a time when Christians can annually connect with their heritage and their fellow Christians around the world. It's a unique opportunity to live out the "oneness" expressed in Christ's prayer in John 17 as we, together, journey through Lent, asking ask—are there things here that we need to die to? Are there habits, thoughts, and patterns of living in our lives that aren’t consistent with the life God intended us to live? At the same time, it is a time for Christians everywhere to accept the life and grace that God extends to us—celebrating the cross and resurrection as God’s definitive act of redemption in the world.
Our church, Grace Church, is choosing to study the Gospel of Mark (something the church has historically done during Lent) in preparation of our Easter/Resurrection celebration. We are also encouraging them to observe Lent however they are lead in their day to day activities. I pray this Lenten Season will be time growth for you and personal resurrection.
Here are some ideas to help shape the way you might choose to observe Lent this year:
2012 Lent Activities Calendar by Mars Hill Bible Church
Parent & Children Lent Observation by Mars Hill Bible Church
Also, here are some great articles on why we celebrate Lent:
Thoughts about Lent by Michael Horton