The season of Lent lasts for 40 days. This reminds us of the 40-day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:1-2), and also Moses' 40 day fast on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Sundays are not included in the 40 days because every Sunday is a joyful celebration of Jesus' resurrection.
Lent originated in the early church as a time of preparation for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and converts were instructed in the faith before baptism.
It is a time for repentance and renewal as we reflect on Jesus perfect obedience and his self-sacrifice for our sins. Because of Lent's penitential nature, worship tends to be more solemn, with violet the liturgical colour.
The word ‘Lent’ comes from the Old English word for ‘Spring’. (Lent occurs during Spring in the Northern hemisphere.)
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter Sunday. A special mid-week worship service with a short meditation is held at Bethlehem each Wednesday at 6pm during Lent.
During weekdays over Lent, Bethlehem church is open to the public. All people are welcome to spend some in the church to reflect and meditate or to enquire about the church.
Opening times are normally Monday to Friday, from 11am to 3pm, beginning on the first Monday during Lent up until the last Wednesday before Maundy Thursday. Please contact us to check opening times for the current Lent season.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and falls on the Wednesday after Transfiguration Sunday. It derives its name from the custom of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers as a sign of repentance.
Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient custom which is often mentioned in the Bible (e.g. Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from this Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.
Ashes symbolise several aspects of our human existence:
- Ashes remind us of God's condemnation of sin. God said to Adam, ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19).
- Ashes suggest cleansing and renewal. In years gone by they were used instead of soap. On Ash Wednesday ashes are a substitute for water as a reminder of our baptism.
- Ashes remind us of the brevity of human life. Burial services often include the words ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.’
- Ashes are a symbol of our need to repent, confess our sins, and obey God.
The ashes used are gathered after the palm crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. Those who wish to receive the ashes come forward. Ashes are applied (or imposed) with the pastor’s thumb in the form of a small cross on the forehead of each person with the words: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
Palm Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday in Lent, marking the beginning of Holy Week. We remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem through the crowds gathered for the Jewish Passover. People waved palm branches and hailed him as the messianic King.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 and emphasizing the humility of his kingdom.
The irony of his acceptance as the new king by the crowds, who five days later demanded his execution, is a sobering reminder of our human tendency to want God on our own terms. Palm leaves tied into small crosses are often handed to worshippers on Palm Sunday.