Christian observance of the Lenten season

MARSHALL — Christian churches around the world will begin their season of Lent on Valentine’s Day this year. (See end for some schedules.) This is unusual as the two are at near-polar ends of the emotional spectrum. Lent marks a 40-day observance of the Stations of the Cross and is often combined with some sort of ritual.

The 40 days does not include Sundays and concludes on Holy Saturday, the day immediately prior to Easter Sunday, several Internet sources say. The 40-day time frame represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten,” which means “spring.” It is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter — the day Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. This holy day derives its name from Christians who have the symbol of the cross sketched on their foreheads as they either enter or exit the Ash Wednesday church service. Their pastor or priest normally administers the symbol with ashes from burned palm fronds that are often saved over from the previous Palm Sunday or some other source.

Lent is a time of self-examination and reflection on one’s past.

In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism.

Historically, Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit for their fast. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline.

In modern day society, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others. Options for such service on the local level could involve serving at The Refuge or Esther’s Kitchen or at your own church’s Lenten suppers.

Sundays in Lent are not counted in the 40 days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.

The contrast between the mini-Easters and the Lenten services are often reflected in the mode of music enlisted for each service.

Easter music is joyful and normally in a major key, which has bright, unified chords. Palm Sunday music generally follows this happy melodic theme as well.

Lenten music is mournful, showing sorrow over one’s sins and the fact that Christ suffered and died for each individual and their personal sins as well as the sins of the whole world.

The Thursday immediate prior to East Sunday is known as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. Holy Communion is celebrated for communicants to receive the sacrament Jesus ordained on earth prior to his crucifixion by celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples prior to his death.

Holy Communion consists of blessed bread and wine being consumed by communicants for the remission of their sins.

Some Christians believe this action to be symbolic and to serve as a remembrance of Jesus’ death until he returns. Other Christians believe they are actually receiving the body and blood of Jesus in with and under the bread and the wine, and still others believe that the bread and the wine turn into the body and the blood of Jesus when the priest consecrates them. In all cases, communicants are reminded that Jesus died for their sins and are expected to say a prayer after taking communion to thank God for such a sacrament and sacrifice.

Good Friday, immediate prior to Easter, Christians hear once again about the sinless Jesus being unjustly nailed to the cross and placed between two criminals who were being crucified for their crimes.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ was the true son of God and also true man. He had to be true man in order to be born and actually die for our sins, but also true God so that he could remain sinless in order to bear our sins and to rise from the dead to complete the redemption requirements.

Believers in Jesus Christ as their personal savior also believe that because of his redemptive work of atonement, a place in heaven is theirs when they leave this world, as opposed to the alternative of eternity in hell. This is the reason Christians take time to reflect on the life of Christ, his death and resurrection, and why Easter is such an important holiday.

Some of the major churches in Marshall have shared their Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14) /Lenten schedules as follows:

Christ Ev. Lutheran Church will hold Ash Wednesday and all regular Lenten services this year at 7 p.m.

Christ United Presbyterian Church congregants will attend Ash Wednesday service at St. Stephen Lutheran Church beginning at 7 p.m. Going forward, Christ United Presbyterian Church will host a Lenten Bible study titled “Discipleship” on Wednesdays during Lent, beginning at 7 p.m.

Cornerstone United Methodist Church will have a 6 p.m. Ash Wednesday service as well as Lenten Bible studies at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays from Feb. 21 through March 21.

First Lutheran Church will be having Ash Wednesday services at 4:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., with regular Lenten services on Wednesdays at 6:15 p.m. for the remainder of the season.

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church has Ash Wednesday Masses at 7 a.m., 8:15 a.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and at the SMSU Campus Religious Center at 8:30 p.m.

Living Word Lutheran Church will hold an Ash Wednesday service at regular Lenten services at 6:30 p.m. with a Lenten Bible study to follow at 7:15 p.m., titled “Belong.” This Bible study will also be offered Sundays at 9:15 a.m.

St. Stephen Lutheran Church will host Christ United Presbyterian Church congregation at a 7 p.m. Ash Wednesday service.

Call the churches directly for further details.