Are you ready for Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent, that 40 day period of self-examination in preparation for Easter Day? If not, you have less than one week to make your plans!
Perhaps my all-time favorite Lent was 1973. First, I was not sure when it began and initially had to calculate from the phase of the moon when it was likely to begin. Since Easter is the Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox (March 21), and since Ash Wednesday is 40 days (plus Sundays) before Easter, it takes a little math and astronomical knowledge to figure it all out. Since I was living in a prisoner of war camp in Hanoi, North Vietnam at the time, the task was complicated ever so slightly. But it was very important to us young men to be able to establish a “free-world” routine in order to help us resist the enemy; and it was also important to us to know whether we would be home for Easter. We knew we would be released on March 29 and be home by April 1, but when was Easter?!
Since we were never quite sure about the date; and since the full moon is not always visible, we did make a mistake in our calculations. However, I was blessed to be in a cell with another Episcopalian, whose mother sent him a Book of Common Prayer in a package from home. I knew the BCP had a table of Easter Days, so I quickly looked it up. Easter would be on April 22 and Ash Wednesday on March 7. So, we solemnly marked our heads with ashes from coal dust on Ash Wednesday and selected some very tiny, but enormously important, prison “luxury” to give up for the remainder of our time in captivity. That year, Easter would truly be a celebration of the Resurrection for each of us as we returned to our new lives of freedom and restored relationships back home.
Our captors never understood why we did what we did. We were men of Christ, whose Lord had paid the ultimate price for us – a price spared us. Giving up a cigarette a day or an extra bit of cabbage soup was a small but significant reminder of the blessing of life and liberty that Christ had won for us so many years earlier.
I hope that your experience of self-examination and repentance; of prayer, fasting, and self-denial; of reading and meditating on God’s holy Word this Lent will bring you the same joy and sense of overwhelming blessing that I experienced during my all-time favorite Lent.