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Even as the snow flurries outside my picture window, I look at the calendar and the upcoming “Spring Forward” time change and realize that spring is coming soon! I like spring and the opportunity for renewal, restoration and restarting that it offers each year. In my house, spring starts with decluttering, dusting, rearranging and a number of other “spring cleaning” tasks.

In the Christian calendar, the season preceding Easter is known as Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays which are considered glimpses of Easter, and not days of penitence. Lent is a season of preparation. We prepare for Easter by fasting, praying, and practicing spiritual discipline during this time – to reflect on the sacrifices Jesus made, and to make more room in our hearts and lives for Christ. Basically, Lent is a time for “spring cleaning” our lives while giving thanks, strengthening our faith and renewing our relationship with God.

Ash Wednesday, which we observe this year on March 1, calls us to repent and to remember our mortality. We observe this day by wearing ashes on our forehead. The ashes are made from the previous year’s Palms, and they tie together the celebration of our Christian faith with the Via Dolorosa— the road of sorrow Jesus walked on his way to the cross. The ashes on our forheads remind us that we came from dust, and we will one day return to dust. (Genesis 3:19) The only hope we have is found in God, through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are called to live the life that Jesus modeled for us, a life of service to the last, the least, and the lost, a life of sacrificial love.

Lent as a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. During this time, we are called to pray, to fast, and to give sacrificially. These practices help us to turn away from the things that have gotten in the way of our full devotion to God and help us turn back to our first love, the Creator of the Universe. As a way of fasting, we give up something for Lent.

People choose to observe this tradition in different ways. We can deprive ourselves of a small pleasure or indulgence—like coffee, chocolate, or TV, and offer that sacrifice to God. Or, we can use the time to give up a bad habit, like smoking or too much Facebook time. But the point of giving something up is not self- improvement; rather it is about cleaning out the dark places of our hearts, places that keep us from fully connecting to God. Lent is about giving up distractions so that we grow closer to God and allow God to transform us to be more like Jesus.

This year, I invite you to observe Lent as an opportunity to grow closer to God. Pray carefully about what you might give up this year, and then consider what you might add, too— prayer, devotions, giving, kindness to a stranger, or service. Remember, Lent is not about improving yourself or your life, but about remembering who you are, where you come from, and who gives you hope and life. It is about improving our relationship with the giver of life, and approaching Easter with a new dedication to our faith and to serving the least, last and lost.

Happy Spring, and have a blessed Lenten season!

Love, Pastor Becca