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Lent – a season of growth

Article posted on 12 February 2019 Leave a Comment

By Rev’d Becky Bevan.

March sees the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of the Church year (plus 6 Sundays which are not counted) which prepares worshippers to greet the risen Christ with renewed joy and commitment on Easter morning.

Shrove Tuesday heralds the arrival of Lent and was traditionally a day to make your confession and be absolved by the priest (‘to shrive’ means to absolve, to be made clean). From the 16th century in Britain it became associated with eating pancakes to use up all the rich foods before the self-denial of Lent began.

In days gone by church bells would be rung on Shrove Tuesday.  Originally it was to call parishioners to confession, but it became known as the Pancake Bell because cooks took it as the signal to get the batter ready for the lunchtime pancakes. This bell, which was usually rang at 11am, also marked the end of the working day and people would return from the fields or school to enjoy a half-day holiday. And, once the pancakes were eaten, the fun and games of Shrove Tuesday got into full swing. For centuries such activities as cock-fighting and rowdy communal games took place. The most popular game was a kind of street football which was notoriously violent and was followed by everyone getting drunk…

After the feasting and the fun Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Since the middle-ages churches have held solemn services on this day at which the sign of the cross is marked in ash on worshippers’ foreheads, reminding penitents of their mortality and reliance on God.  In many churches the palm crosses which are used to make the ash are burnt as part of the celebrations on Shrove Tuesday.

Although we associate Lent with self-denial, self-examination and penitence, its focus originally was on preparing candidates for baptism on Easter Sunday. It was a time for teaching and learning the faith. And perhaps, like those first Christians in the early days of the Church, this is an aspect of Lent we can usefully focus on – seeing it more as a time to learn, grow, change and be renewed, rather than simply ‘giving things up’. In this way Lent can become a season of discovery and fresh insight. Of course, we may need to change our habits or routines to allow space for reflection, or deliberately take up a new commitment or challenge to encourage spiritual or emotional growth.

One Lent, many years ago when I was working in Oxford, I decided that the simplest way to find some time to think and pray was to not have the radio on in the car as I commuted to and from work. So, for five weeks I drove from Newbury to Oxford in silence. It turned out to be a rather significant decision because it was during this time that I decided to pack in my publishing job and explore my vocation to ordained ministry. So be careful what you do during Lent – you never know what it might lead to!

It might be helpful to remember that the word ‘Lent’ is nothing to do with guilt, or fasting, or giving things up. The word Lent is about Spring, and it refers to the lengthening of the days. So, over this next month, as the days get longer, and the signs of new life become ever more apparent, nature gives us a kind of visual aid for the journey of Lent. This is a time for new growth, for letting the light in and seeing what will blossom – and that’s got to be better than giving up chocolate!

Revd Becky Bevan

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