One of my favorite places is Abundant Blessings Thrift Store in Mifflintown, PA. On Friday nights, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM they have a half-price sale which I frequent. But, alas, I have decided to give up thrift store shopping for Lent. Each member of my little family has chosen to give up something for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. We are saving the money we would have spent on our sacrifice, for instance the money I would have spent at my various Thrift Store haunts, and donating it to our church building fund on Easter Sunday. We are working our way through the book "Family Countdown to Easter" for our lenten period. Although we don't go to a church that really acknowledges the lenten season, I look on it as I do Advent before Christmas. Lent is a time to prepare our hearts for rejoicing at Easter. Lent is a time to really reflect and draw closer to our Lord and acknowledge the sacrifice of His Son for our sin.
I learned a few things about Lent last week when my mother asked about its origins. Originally acknowledged by the Roman Catholic church, Christians gave up many rich foods and the ingredients therein, such as eggs, milk, and butter. Meats and poultry were also avoided during this 40-day period that was a church-recognized fasting time. Some say that the roots of this time-period came because it was when winter stores were getting low or there was a need to use up what was left so that it wouldn't spoil. Therefore it was almost a natural time of fasting. The fasting was a tool to remind the believer of all that was sacrificed when Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross.
I grew up in a church that didn't acknowledge a Lenten period. But our Easter week was the most spiritually moving time of my year. I have yet to find a church that celebrates Easter like Highspire First Church of God's Easter week services. On the Wednesday before Easter we had a baptismal service. It was the one time of year that the lid on the baptismal was lifted and many young people (including myself) were sunk below the water to be raised up into eternal life. Then on Thursday, the Maundy Thursday service included communion and feet washing. If you had been baptized the evening before, this was the first time you could participate in either of these special times in church-life. I have vivid memories as a young child of following my mother and paternal grandmother to the back of the adult Sunday School Room where chairs were arranged in a circle with basins and towels placed at every other chair. I sat behind Grandma and watched the ladies slip of their shoes and hosiery and sit in that circle. As they sang hymns accapella, one woman would kneel before another and wrap a towel around her waist. As she lifted another's foot into a basin of warm water and lovingly scooped water from her own hand to bathe the foot of another, I could see Jesus. In fact, I could hear Him in their hymns. I could feel Him in the room. It was the most sacred time of my life. After feet washing, the men and women would meet again in the church sanctuary for communion.
On Good Friday, Highspire observed this day with a community church service. This service rotated to each of the four churches in town. It was in the afternoon, which disrupted a day-off from school, but looking back to that time, it accented the importance of this week in preparation for Easter. On Saturday morning, the church women had a sacrificial breakfast. First, there was some sort of presentation by the women, usually of the Easter story, in verse, special readings or scriptures. After that brief service, we all walked across to the Sunday school room where long tables were set in the shape of a cross. A large arm chair draped in purple with a crown of thorns stood empty at the top of the cross. As we all took our places at seats around the table, we received red juice and a hot cross bun as our breakfast. All was comsumed in silence. The morning ended when the pastor's wife beginning at the foot of the cross, walked to the head singing "The Old Rugged Cross."
On Easter Sunday, we arose at 5:30 for the Sunrise Service, usually held outside. The Youth had charge of this service and, afterward, our reward was a home cooked southern breakfast made by the Pastor's wife. Then we headed home to find our Easter baskets before returning in a few short hours for Sunday School and church. During the Easter worship service, we sang all of the best Easter hymns, raising our voices to the rooftops, "Up from the grave He arose" and "He Lives! He Lives! Christ Jesus lives today!"
That was my Lent. It wasn't Forty days. It was Five days. But it was the most special Five days of my year. This year, we are spending time as a family to prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday. We began tonight by holding our own Ash Wednesday service around the kitchen table. We wrote down one area in which we would like to improve, prayed aloud about that area, and then burnt our slip of paper. It was such a special evening to hear how God convicted the hearts of my young men, as well as myself and my husband. Our little service was a perfect start to a focused Lenten season.
If you haven't observed Lent, consider it. Pray about taking on a special task during the next 40 days. Maybe it will be reading a book concerning a spiritual discipline, or completing a devotional. Lent could be the time you choose to commit to a consistant quiet time each morning. Whatever you choose, observe a special season to prepare you for Easter. When Easter Sunday arrives, you will be blessed for your effort.