Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, of course, the first day of Lent. "Already?" some of you may have thought. "Isn't it awfully early this year?" Well yes, it was about as early as it gets. Due to the complex and rather confusing method used to calculate when Easter is, which has to do with the interplay of the lunar and solar calendars, Easter can be as early as the first day of spring, or as late as April 18th. This year, Easter is at the early end of the range, so Ash Wednesday was, too.
Ash Wednesday kicks off the "40 days of Lent" that precede Easter, but the numbering of that is odd, too. Lent is actually about a week longer than that, because the Sundays in that period don't count as part of the 40 days. Weird, huh? No wonder Lent has always seemed longer than it ought to be.
As a friend mentioned to me many years ago, Easter either coincides with Passover (as well it should historically), or misses it by about a month. This is because the two religious calendars differ in the way they calculate the moon's contribution to the dating of their respective holidays.
Obviously, since it was Ash Wednesday, I spent part of my evening at St. Michael's. Unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera along. The place has a very different feel to it on Ash Wednesday and other Lenten evenings than it has on Sunday mornings: quieter, more solemn and peaceful and even a little sad. Part of this is because of the darkness one steps out into afterward, the front walk under the trees strung with lights. There is no coffee hour or other distraction, no final organ solo to play us out, nothing to do but go home in silence. I like it.
Lent is an interesting time in other ways. For one thing, it begins and ends with reminders of death. Lent starts with the imposition of ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, a reminder that on our own we are "but dust." It ends with the crucifixion and Jesus in the tomb.
The end of Lent is another example of weird dating. Have you ever wondered how Friday afternoon to Sunday morning counts as three days? I often have, until Father Ireland finally explained it a few years ago. Since first century AD didn't have the concept for zero, Friday was the first day, Saturday the second, and Sunday the third day, although the whole period comes to less than 48 hours.
Another interesting thing about the season of Lent is what people do during that time, aside from eating fish on Fridays. People talk about "giving up something for Lent," but that's only part of the story. Sure, I may avoid hi-carb delights and blogging at work for the next 40-days-excluding-Sundays, but Lent isn't supposed to be about dieting or being a good employee. It's about repentence and reflection, bringing body and brain under control rather than giving in to them all the time, and dedicating that change in behavior to God as part of an effort to prepare spiritually for Easter. I can't say I completely understand this, but one of the things it means is that part of Lent can be in what one does, not just in what one avoids. Last year (it doesn't seem that long ago!) I read my way through the Gospels during Lent. If I were braver and more outgoing than I am, and less broke and busy (that's right; let's pile on the excuses!), I might volunteer at Casa Maria or some other soup kitchen or shelter, or head down to Guatamala with Ila. But I'm no good with that stuff, as I've mentioned here before, so I guess I'll just give blood again, and donate some more stuff to the Salvation Army or whatever.
I've updated the St. Michael's Seasons page for Lent, by the way. I have a feeling I may have missed Epiphany on that page, but I'm caught up now. Check it out!