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按照古教會的習慣，預苦期由受苦節（Good Friday）前的第七個週三開始（那個週三是為「蒙灰日」，禮儀教會則稱之為「聖灰日」，今年是 2 月 17 日），至受苦節翌日，共 40 天（不計主日）。在預苦期的首天蒙灰，乃是要表示對罪深切哀傷，並提醒自己本是塵土。
The Real Meaning of Lent
Rev Kin-tong Pun
For many years, Good Friday worship services have been conducted in the NPAC family, so members would find Lent familiar. Although brothers and sisters’ level of engagement with Lent may vary from person to person, many cherish the meetings and spiritual training of the Lenten season.
Lent in the ancient church was originally meant for brothers and sisters getting baptized during Easter. The season was also a time for those ex-communicated from the church and who wished to return to quietly reflect on their sins or wrongdoings. Later, Lent was no longer limited to that context but became an annual opportunity for believers to practice spiritual training.
The ancient practice is that Lent starts the seventh Wednesday before Good Friday (called “Ash Wednesday” in liturgical churches, which falls on Feb 17 this year). It is a total of 40 days till the day after Good Friday (not counting Sundays). The administering of repentance ashes on Ash Wednesday marks penitence and reminds believers that they are dust.
Although the pandemic makes us unable to administer ashes this year, this in no way undermines the significance of Lent. During Lent, brothers and sisters can exercise different degrees of fasting or restrain certain daily habits to create more room for reflection on their lives. In spiritual awakening, they remember the Lord’s love and graces, which leads to repentance that leaves no regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, they gain Christ, and joy is a result of the renewal by the Spirit. Therefore, the training of Lent is not a pursuit of melancholy nor is it striving for holiness through painstaking effort. It is bringing our spiritual condition before the Lord and letting Him lead us in reflection.
Spiritual growth in the Lenten season is like the administering of ashes, which turns our hearts to remember the death of Christ for us. The administering of ashes is symbolic. Whether we stick to the ancient practice is a matter of choice. But remember this: the placing of ashes outwardly and not inwardly is only a ritual. Like what Paul said: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
The training of Lent is not meant to be separated from the spiritual growth process, to reflect or lead an alternative lifestyle during the season alone. It is the practice of faith by the church community by means of which believers adjust their lives towards Christlikeness. Although the spiritual growth of believers can be different in terms of stage, mode and timing, regular spiritual training would be of help in reminding and calling upon believers to grow spiritually. In this way, annual training is not pendulum work. It is a renewal that takes us forward one step at a time.