Lent: A Time for Self-Examination
According to our prayer book, “Easter Day is always the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21. It cannot occur before March 22 or after April 25” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 15). This decision came from the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE as churches were urged to accept the same computation of the date of Easter so that all could celebrate Easter “with one heart and one mind” (wording from the Council of Nicaea).
In 1583, Pope Gregory XIII was credited with having reformed the church calendar. This new calendar, the Gregorian calendar, was named in his honor and is the one that churches use today in the Western world. However, some were opposed to the reform and chose to remain with the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. The Orthodox Churches, primarily in the East, use a revised Julian calendar, and their celebration of Christmas and Easter is usually a week after ours. (Hoyt L. Hickman, Don E. Saliers, Laurence Hull Stookey, and James F. White, The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986).
This year, Easter falls on April 5 and, therefore, our Epiphany season is coming to an end as we count backwards from Easter to find Ash Wednesday, which is February 18. So for half of February and all of March we will be in the season of Lent. Lent is a time of forty days (not counting Sundays) and began in Egypt at the end of the third century or the beginning of the fourth, as a time to celebrate Christ’s fast in the desert during the weeks immediately after his baptism.
Later, Lent was seen as a preparation for Easter. This was a time when those who had been separated from the Christian community could come back to the community after a period of penance. It also was a preparation time for candidates for baptism, which occurred at the Easter Vigil.
As we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, God calls us “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 265). How will you deepen your spiritual life this Lent as we prepare for our Lord’s resurrection on Easter day, the holiest day of the Christian calendar? It is always wise to examine our spiritual lives from time to time so we can come closer to, and have a deeper relationship with, our Lord and each other.