This week marks the beginning of a season in the church year called “Lent” (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “spring,” when it takes place). The first holy day (from which we get “holiday”) in the early church was Sunday as a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ. Before long there was also a commemoration on March 25th of Jesus’ conception, birth, death and resurrection. When a separate day for the birth of Christ was later added, Christmas was commemorated on December 25th (nine months after March 25th). In the Western church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (in two days) and continues for forty days until Easter, not including Sundays. In the Eastern (Orthodox) church, Lent begins on Clean Monday (today) and continues until the Friday before Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), including Sundays. The number “40” has special significance in the Bible as a time of pilgrimage, such as the Israelites’ 40-years in the wilderness, Moses’ 40-days on Mount Sinai and Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. For Christian it is a time to remember our sins and our need for God’s forgiveness in anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross on our behalf on Good (God’s) Friday. In the western church, Ash Wednesday can be any time from February 4th ago March 10th, so it comes fairly late this year. Easter can come any time between March 22nd and April 25th (this year it comes on April 20th). Originally Ash Wednesday was a time when penitents who had strayed from the church were readmitted and their repentance was signified by ashes applied to their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Later, since all of us are sinners in need of God’s mercy, the custom was expanded to include others who wanted ashes upon their foreheads, and is common in many kinds of Christian churches today. Historically, Lent also served another purpose. In the early church it took three years as a “catechumen” (student) to become a member of the Christian church, a journey of some three hundred hours of preparatory instruction. The final 120 class hours took place for three hours each morning during Lent, after which the catechumens who had not yet been baptized received baptism on the night before Easter (Holy Saturday or Easter Eve) or if their instruction was not quite complete, on Pentecost Eve. This is a good reminder for each of us as believers in Christ to especially make use of this Lenten season to pick up those dusty Bibles and spend spend extra time reading God’s Word, and to make use of the extra opportunities for worship that are provided.