Lent is a season of reflection and repentance lasting from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Its primary focus is the “preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.” It last for forty days, not counting Sundays, thus mirroring the forty days that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness.
At Highland, we observe Lent by removing all the finer things from our sanctuary and replacing them with more “common” things. We use earthen vessels for the candles, a cross made of branches, and wooden offering plates. We place a crown of thorns on the communion table, and put an antependium of burlap on the pulpit. We move all the banners, and replace the front banner with a suspended cross, draped with a purple cloth. All of these changes last until Easter Sunday, when symbolically the glory of God returns to the sanctuary.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a movable feast occurring 46 days before Easter. The name of the day comes from the ritual of placing ashes on one’s head or hand, reflecting the “ancient Near Eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one’s head to signify repentance before God (as related in the Bible). The priest or minister says one or both of the following when applying the ashes:
The ashes used in the service are the result of burning the palms from the Palm Sunday processional of the year before, signifying our willingness to sacrifice even our praise in repentance before God.