Lent: A Message for a Post-Church Culture

by Rev. Timothy C. Cartwright


I served a parish in the mountains of Colorado for eight years in the 1990s. While there, I volunteered in the local school district. The school superintendent and a principal, and numerous teachers, were congregation members.

Each winter for five years, along with another community volunteer, I cared for a group of 10 students who were dealing with alcohol-and drug-related school problems. During those five years, I made 50 high-school friends. (I am familiar with the addiction and recovery journey. I had been in a similar place.)

The 10-week course (one session a week) started before Ash Wednesday. Usually, we would end our sessions after Easter. The proximity of our church to the high school enabled me to host the sessions in our church basement.

We started in the dark of winter. As winter gave way to spring and the days lengthened, our friendships would deepen. The light and hope of spring paralleled the end of our sessions. During those years, my journeys with these young people shed a great light on my Lenten seasons.

A Lenten Glossary (Abbreviated)

Lent. Old English for spring, “Lenten” (lengthening of days).

Quadragesima pasche. Latin for “40 days prior to Easter” (minus Sundays). These days correspond to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–12; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1–12).

Mardi Gras. French phrase meaning “Fat Tuesday.”

Fasching. German word meaning “fasting.”

Shrove Tuesday. English word (“shrove”) indicating forgiveness for confessed sin.

Ash Wednesday. The day draws attention to the Old Testament practice of “sackcloth and ashes” worn by worshipers, indicating contrition for sin and error.

Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) precedes Ash Wednesday. It was the day when the faithful would clear the house of cooking fat. (Unused lard would turn rancid during the “fasting” days of Lent.) Fat Tuesday became a big feast, hence “Carnival.” Confession and absolution would be emphasized on “Fat” or “Shrove” Tuesday. Folks would gather for Ash Wednesday’s service, cupboards bare and absolution anticipated.

A Lenten Journey (Acts of Change)

Identify the “trouble” and note the “rescue” in each Bible reading.

Week 1: “Rubble in the Church—Broken Life” (Acts 16:16–34)




Week 2: “Jealousy in the Church— Uncontrolled Envy” (Acts 6:1–7)




Week 3: “Asleep in the Church—Numb Life” (Acts 20:7–12)




Week 4: “Change in the Church—Life Adjustments” (Acts 9:1–19)




Week 5: “Disappointment in the Church—Personal Disappointment” (Acts 15:36–41)




Week 6: “Tumult in the Church—Turbulent Life” (Acts 27:27–44)



As winter gives way to spring, consider the above texts. The Lutheran Study Bible is a great resource. The days will lengthen. You will have 40 days to hear Lent’s timeless message. Easter is the great hope for all people. It is a message for a post-Church culture. It is a message for students, teachers, adults, congregations, and clergy—for all of us—who each deal with difficult life issues. Winter’s dark hold—sin’s dark hold—is remedied by the reality of Christ’s resurrection.

I remain grateful for 50 courageous students in Colorado. We shared a common journey of hope and renewal, and of abundant grace.

About the Author: Rev. Timothy C. Cartwright is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Ashland, Ore.

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