Ash Wednesday and Lent FAQs

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So the Season of Lent is upon us early this year, with Ash Wednesday falling on February 10th. We wanted to extend an invitation to you to join our community as we journey through Lent this year, beginning with Ash Wednesday, ending with Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, and then opening us up to the wonderful fifty-day Season of Easter.

Please do consider joining us on February 10th at 7:00pm at Sequoia Christian Church’s main sanctuary (233 Topaz Street, Redwood City) for our Ash Wednesday service. We would love to have you.  We will be partnering with Sequoia Church and Via Vetera to host this service and will be following a traditional Anglican liturgy.  It will be a time of self-reflection, prayer, worship in song, the imposition of ashes, and the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If you have any questions, please email us at pastor@communityoftheway.org.

In the meantime, you can find some FAQs about this service and about the season of Lent in general.

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What is the Church Year and how does Lent fit into it?

First off, if you are new the idea of a Church Year or Christian Calendar, you may first want to check out this helpful short video about this ancient Christian practice.

What is Lent?

Lent is the 40 day-period prior to Easter. Lent is a time when we seriously consider our human condition.   It is a time of examination of life, confession, and repentance.

At the same time, Lent is a time when we reflect on our hope in Christ and proclaim with joy that Christ has reconciled himself to us through his crucifixion and resurrection. In Lent, we are always looking forward to the triumph of Easter Day, so even as we spend time in self-reflection and repentance, we also continually hold fast to God’s profound and costly love for us.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It is also probably the most solemn day of the season. We are confronted with our unregenerate nature and with death. We are confronted with the reality that we will all die and that we are in fact, powerless to prevent it. Our reflection on death is meant to set into motion a reconsideration of the meaning of life and death apart from Christ but also in Christ.   In Christ, our deaths are absolutely transformed, for with Christ, sin and death do not have the last word. Believers in Christ will instead see themselves at the end of days seated at the great resurrection feast of the Lamb of God. Therefore, this most solemn day is also a very hopeful one.

What is the meaning of the ashes?

Ashes are the sign of death, sorrow, and mourning; they are placed on our foreheads on this day. Yet, these ashes are placed on us in the sign of the cross, which alters the starkness of the message and gives us hope. Yes, we will all die, but we Christians will die in Christ, which again absolutely transforms the nature of our deaths.

Must I receive the ashes?

No. If you would like to attend our service, but are unsure of receiving the ashes, you are most welcome to just reflect upon the symbolic nature of the ashes without having them placed on your forehead. On the other hand, receiving them can be a powerful experience where God can work deeply in our hearts. It is also a sign to others of our faith in Christ.

Why is Lent 40 days?

First off, if you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, you will actually count 46 days. Six of those days are Sundays, and because Sundays are always feast days, they are not actually considered to be part of the penitential days of Lent.   There are 40 days in Lent for both theological and practical reasons. The theological reason is as follows: in Biblical terms, it is a round number that symbolizes fullness – it is a time sufficient to accomplish what needs to be accomplished. There are many examples in the Bible of 40-day periods. It rained for 40 days in the time of Noah, Moses and Elijah dwelt at Horeb for 40 days, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days prior to His baptism, and there are other examples too. The practical reason is as follows: 40 days was a sufficient amount of time for converts to make their final, intensive preparation for baptism in the early days of Christianity (since at least the 4th century onward).

What are the origins of Lent?

In the early centuries of Christianity, believers would generally be baptized on Easter, and wanting to be like Jesus who fasted before he began his ministry, Christians also wanted a period of disciplined devotion, concentrated study and prayer, and fasting before their baptism. So they did just that.   Soon, the whole church would view this time before Easter as a time of disciplined devotion, and this time would turn into the season of Lent as we know it.

Do Christians in the Anglican Tradition fast or give up things for Lent?

Since Lent is a self-reflective season, many followers choose to have times of fasting, to give up various things, or to take on new Christian practices during the season of Lent (extra times of prayer, etc.) However, these things are not prescribed in the Anglican Way as they are in other traditions. So individual Christians can choose what will be the most helpful for them as they seek to draw closer to Christ. A conversation with a pastor or close friend before the season starts may be helpful in discerning how to approach Lent this year.

What are other important days in Lent?

During the last week of Lent, we walk through Holy Week, which consists of Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.   Check back later in the season to find out more about these special days in the Christian Calendar.