by Alyssa Robinson
Access Lenten worship services and resources at https://www.tmumc.org/lent.
When asked about the meaning behind Lent, my thoughts diverge down two paths. One, is the intellectual path. The academic answer to this question feels more concrete and accessible, the reasoning behind the season of Lent: religious traditions, Scriptural attributions, and historical context.
Lent is a 40-day season (not counting Sundays) marked by repentance, fasting, reflection, and ultimately celebration. The 40-day period represents Christ’s time of temptation in the wilderness, where he fasted and overcame temptation. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and asks believers to set aside a time each year for similar fasting, marking an intentional season of focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.
The key events of Lent include Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
This explanation has become rote and doesn’t require much introspection; it’s accurate, but sterile.
The second path is messy and harder for me to grasp, the spiritual path. I can walk you through all of the ways I’ve practiced fasting over the years, incorporated prayer, or served others and never capture Lent’s meaning.
But I do have one moment I hold in my heart.
You probably remember the ice storm of 2021. Many of us lost power, water, and were stuck in our homes for days at negative temperatures. This storm fell in the middle of February and included Ash Wednesday.
I was staying with my parents that week because my house didn’t have central heating. I decided to hunker down with them through the storm. They live within walking distance of the church, and we saw that the church still had electricity. To try to support the community, the Trietsch staff came together to open the church to those who had lost power and water. We couldn’t provide much since very few people could actually get to the church, but we could provide a place to rest, some water, and a break from the cold.
We only had a handful of people who stopped by to take advantage of the heat. It was quiet and calm in the church. On Ash Wednesday, Rev. Dr. Nick McRae (former Assoc. Pastor of Serving Ministries) came to distribute ashes to anyone who wanted to partake in the ritual.
There were three of us present. We were bundled up in sweatshirts, beanies, and rain boots. Pastor Nick said a short prayer, and we gathered around him to receive the ashes.
He made the sign of the cross on my forehead, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.”
I felt tears roll down my cheeks. When I closed my eyes to receive the ashes, I saw my grandmother’s face. She died in November of 2020, just months before this moment. I felt like she was with me, receiving the ashes through me. I imagined all of the times she would have participated in this sacred ritual in the 87 years of her life. I was spiritually connected to her in that moment, like our hearts were still tethered together. I felt the energy of Christ pass between us and through us.
Here I was, unwashed and practically in pajamas. We didn’t have a full service with a Sanctuary full of people, sermon, music, or order of worship. I hadn’t meditated prior to this moment to prepare my heart for the Holy Spirit. Honestly, I was just going through the motions of Ash Wednesday like I did every year. I took it because it was offered to me.
In that moment of vulnerability, grief, and humility, God found me. Reflecting on that moment grounds me in the true meaning of Lent. I felt comfort in the midst of melancholy, hope beyond my finite existence. This is Lent.
The spiritual practices can help us grow closer to God and find that sacred space, but the practices, traditions, and rituals are not what give Lent meaning. They are a catalyst that can reveal the oneness of Christ if we are open to it.
On the day I write this it would be my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and I still feel tethered to her. There was so much love between us, and where there is love there is God because God is love (1 John 4:7-8). She continues to guide me deeper into my spirituality in unexpected moments because nothing can conquer unconditional love, not even death.
As we begin the journey of Lent together, let’s be open to the mystery and oneness of Christ. Holy Spirit, give us the courage to bring our grief, anxiety, humility, vulnerability, authenticity to this sacred space. Amen.