“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

(Joel 2:12-13)

This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 6th. The name of the day comes from the custom of being marked on the forehead with a cross of ash to symbolise death and regret for past sins. The tradition of marking with ashes began in the early church as a way for persistent sinners to outwardly show their desire for repentance. By the end of the 10th century, the custom had spread to all the faithful.

At Christ Church we are once more hosting the Portsdown Cluster Service on Ash Wednesday, when we will seek God’s forgiveness and commit ourselves to a faithful Lent. As part of that service we will offer the chance to be marked with ash, as a sign of penitence.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent probably arose out of the practice of baptising believers on Easter Day. The weeks before would be a time of preparation and fasting. Today there are four key ways in which Christians observe the time of Lent.

Fasting is a way of showing our intent to God – that we really are serious with him. It can also be a way of making time for God. This does not mean that we eat nothing for 40 days, but perhaps we miss a meal each day, or two a week, and when we do so we spend the time we would have been eating in prayer, or even just remember God when our stomach rumbles!

Prayer lies at the heart of our Lenten observance. It is good to find a few extra minutes each day to spend with God.

Giving is part of many Christian’s Lenten practice. Perhaps this is a good time to review your giving to the church and other good causes.

Finally, many will take up daily Bible reading, if that is not their usual practice, or join a Lent discussion group.

If previously you have thought of Lent as just a time to give something up, then perhaps this year you could add something to it. If we want to get the best out of Easter, then we have to put our best into Lent.

Revd Andy Wilson

Vicar, Christ Church Portsdown
Priest-in-Charge, St John the Baptist Purbrook
Curate, Church of the Good Shepherd Crookhorn
Chaplain, Havant & Waterlooville FC