Christians observe Lenten season by fasting

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Doug Wootten
415th Base Support Battalion
staff chaplain

The Christian church’s Lenten Season of Hope is a time in the church year that is observed by the Catholic Church and many of the Protestant Christian denominations and churches.

The word “lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lecten,” meaning spring. Therefore, the season begins usually close to the end of February or early March. This year it began earlier than usual Feb. 9, Ash Wednesday, and ends Palm Sunday, March 20.
Violet or purple is the color that the pastor or priest wears and that cover our altars in our chapels during Lent.

This color signifies penitence, humility and suffering. People consider giving things up during Lent and some still “fast” and go without certain foods as well. My wife Karen and I plan to give up whole grain foods for “Lent” this year. The Lord knows that I don’t need it, especially the extra calories.

Lent lasts for 40 days to include six Sundays. The 40 days are symbolic of Jesus’ 40-day trial and preparation in the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist (Matthew 4:1-11).

The beginning of Lent is known as Ash Wednesday. Ashes from the charred remains of the palm branches used on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) of the previous year are used by the pastor or priest to make a sign of the cross on the forehead of those desiring to follow Christ. The cross on the forehead is symbolic of one being sorry for their sins and a desire to continue to follow the way of the cross.

I remember more than 16 years ago being in Grafenwoehr, Germany, with my 1-41 Infantry Battalion (then part of the 2nd Armored Division (Forward), Fort Hood, Texas, over Ash Wednesday in the winter of 1988.

The consecrated ashes were present but the priest was unable to be there. I decided with the blessing of my supervisory chaplain to conduct an Ash Wednesday service for the Soldiers in my unit and for others training at Grafenwoehr. It was a very moving time for me as a chaplain to conduct my very first Ash Wednesday service following the guidelines of an old Army Hymnal and Catholic Missal there in the chapel. I was blessed as I placed an ash cross upon the Soldiers as they came forward in that cantonment chapel during a cold February afternoon in Germany.

The last week of Lent is often referred to as Holy Week. During this week, there are a number of significant days that are set aside to remember the events in our Lord Jesus’ life.

Holy week begins with Palm Sunday when palm branches are referred to and shared in our chapels to remind us of the triumphant entry Jesus made riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and many placed palms on the ground before him.

Next is the remembrance of Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is believed to have come from the Latin word “man datum,” meaning commandment. Maundy refers to the instructions Jesus gave his disciples in the Upper Room the night they celebrated the Passover Meal, and Jesus was betrayed. Many churches celebrate Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week.

In some churches, foot-washing services are also held before the Lord’s Supper is shared. Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is recorded in John 13: 4-17.

The next significant day of Holy Week is known as Good Friday. The question is often asked, “Why call it, Good Friday?” The word “good” reminds us of our good God who took on the sins of the world and made a way for all people to have eternal life according to the Christian beliefs.

I invite you to be looking for Lenten materials and service schedules in our chapels, your churches and of course here in the Kaiserslautern American.

I encourage our entire KMC during this season of Lent to not lose hope, to pray and seek God especially in the possible difficult times we may face ahead. We should all pray in hope (pray using God’s word), humility (pray for others), unity (pray with others), proximity (prayer walk) and with responsibility (pray by caring and sharing with others).

We still face uncertainty with the crises in our world and the continuing war against terrorism. An examination or re-examination during the season of Lent will give people a new strength and power to their faith in their God. Be encouraged by King David’s words of long ago, “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me … restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” – Psalm 51: 10, 12.

I hope to see many of you in our chapels, and I encourage you to become involved and stay involved with your faith community here in Germany.