On Ash Wednesday we engage in the ancient ritual of putting ashes on our foreheads to remember our mortality. Healthy teenagers, infants, middle aged people, the elderly—all get the same smear of ashes, regardless or health or political party, regardless of church membership, citizenship status, ethnic identity. The ashes remind us that we are all mortal. The ashes are an equalizer.
But there is more. Because the ashes we wear on our foreheads are in the form of a cross. Just as the ashes unite us in death, the cross unites us in life. Lent is the time when we set aside 40 days to explore more deeply the meaning of death and life.
Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation. Candidates for baptism spent Lent preparing for the dying with Christ and rising with Christ in the great Easter Vigil.
Lent is a time of prayer and a time of action.
The 40 days of Lent parallel the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness following his baptism, the 40 days in which he was tempted by the devil. What kind of temptations plague us these days? We have a tendency to trivialize the concept of temptation, to downgrade temptations into only sex or chocolate. Focusing only on these so-called temptations of the flesh, we potentially ignore far more significant transgressions. Lent gives us a time to examine our lives and our priorities, and make changes, not because they will win us a lottery ticket into heaven, but because Jesus has already taken care of that. We are free to repent, free to reform our lives.
There is more. The 40 days of Lent also remind us of the 40 years in which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, homeless refugees looking for a place to live in safety. Might we take time in Lent to learn more about the 65 million refugees across the globe, who seek a safe place to live and to protect their families? I invite you to engage more deeply with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) to learn how your congregation could help families just like yours—caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You can also go to ELCA.org, and find world hunger resources to use in Lent, and Lenten resources on immigration. Check out AAMPARO, at ELCA.org. to learn more about what our church is doing, and to learn about what the Bible says about hospitality towards strangers. You can find 40 Bible passages, one for each day of Lent, on now to treat immigrants.
There are many ways to observe Lent, individually and congregationally. I encourage you to join Christians across the globe during this solemn time of Lent, deepening faith and witness.
Jessica Crist , Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA