In just a few short weeks, Christians around the world will again be remembering a moment that lends validity to their faith, when the Easter resurrection is again celebrated in churches.
To reach that moment of rejoicing in the risen Christ who died on a cross on Good Friday, the faithful are urged to reflect on the reason, purpose and significance of Easter.
The period of time most Christians use to do that is the Lenten season, more simply known as Lent.
Pastor Hal Hall, senior pastor of Maples Memorial United Methodist Church in Olive Branch, is quick to point out that while Easter is a celebration, Lent is an observance.
"Ash Wednesday actually begins the season of Lent, a word that means spring," Hall said. "Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, not including Sundays. The season of Lent is truly a fast as we remember why Jesus went to the cross in the first place, which is our sin, and that's something we don't celebrate. We observe it."
Denominations that place special emphasis on Lent include Methodists, Anglican, Orthodox, Lutheran and Catholic churches, although a number of evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.
Hall pointed out the purpose of Lent is in the preparation for Easter.
"You're preparing yourself for the celebration of Easter," he said. "For the believer, the best way to observe Lent is to intentionally do things, like reading the Bible and being in prayer, and the focus then is on the reason for the cross, the reason for Good Friday and the reason for Easter."
Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent and Hall points out that part of an Ash Wednesday service involves placing the sign of the cross on a person's forehead with ash, the burned remnants of the previous year's palms from Palm Sunday.
"The ash reminds us of our mortality and the sign of the cross reminds us of our mortality and our sin," Hall said. "The shape of the cross reminds us that we have a Savior."
Part of the observance of Lent is the fasting that many undertake during the season, and/or the denial of a luxury as a reminder of Christ's fasting in the desert, as noted in the Gospels, before He started His ministry.
"People have given up all kinds of things, from TV, a program, in recent times social media, a dessert, something they enjoy," said Hall. "The idea is to spend that time in a spiritual exercise, such as prayer and Bible study."
Maples Memorial UMC has undertaken a number of activities to help its members observe Lent. One is a Lenten Bible Study based on Maxie Dunham's "With Jesus in the Upper Room," a study based on John 13-17.
Another activity has been to help pack meals for the global hungry through the ministry Rise Above Hunger.
"The last several years, we've packed over 40,000 meals and we'll be doing that this coming Saturday (today)," Hall said.
As the season of Lent ends during Holy Week, Hall noted the church will be holding its traditional services leading up to the Easter celebration.
'My hope is that the 40 day preparation season of repentance makes all that Jesus did on the cross that much more meaningful and special to us. When Easter comes, we are then truly able to celebrate and it's not just another day, another Sunday."
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.