By Rev. Dai Morgan
Today is the first Sunday in the 2013 liturgical season of Lent.
For many folks, the first indication that Lent has arrived is when their friends show up to work or school with black smudges on their foreheads. They know that the time has come to sample the fish fry circuit. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there is a lot more to it. For practicing Christians, the Lenten period holds special significance.
Stated most simply, in the Western Christian Churches, Lent comprises the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It is a time of introspection, solemnity and, in some traditions, penitence. For many it is a time of fasting, self-denial or sacrifice. “What did you give up for Lent?” is a common question this time of year.
Lenten-like observances appear to go back to the beginnings of the Church. However, Lent as we understand it today began about the year 600 C.E., when Pope Gregory the Great established Ash Wednesday as the start of Lent and formalized its length at 40 days (not counting Sundays). He also began the practice of marking the forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday.
Of course, Easter is the center of the liturgical calendar and high point of the Church year. Lent takes its significance as the lead-up to Easter. It is intended to prepare and focus one’s attention on the coming of Easter and the resurrection of Christ. It is a time to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.
There are variations on how different denominations commemorate Lent—not to mention variations among different parishes. However, in the Borough of Swissvale, where there is a long tradition of ecumenical cooperation, many of the churches join together to share in the commemoration of the Lenten season.
This practice has been going on for decades. It is called the Swissvale Lenten Pilgrimage. During Wednesday evenings, at 7 p.m., a different church hosts a service of worship. Furthermore, a pastor from another church delivers the message. In recent years, they have included a Good Friday Via Dolorosa walk, where participants solemnly walk a half mile through the business district, in memory of Jesus’ carrying his cross to Calvary.
People from all faith traditions are invited to attend these ecumenical services. Following is a schedule for the Swissvale Lenten Pilgrimage:
- Wednesday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. at Swissvale Presbyterian Church, 1825 Monongahela Ave., (Rev. Handley speaking)
- Wednesday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m. at Union Baptist Church, 2117 Collingwood Ave., (Rev. Keys speaking)
- Wednesday, March 6, 7 p.m. at Swisshelm Park Primitive Methodist Church, 243 Homestead St., (Rev. Schwartz speaking)
- Wednesday, March 13, 7 p.m. at Living Spirit Ministry-Swissvale United Methodist Church, 7415 Irvine St., (The Covenant Players)
- Wednesday, March 20, 7 p.m. at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church, 2018 S. Braddock Ave. (Taize service)
- Friday, March 29, 11:30 a.m., Good Friday Via Dolorosa Walk. Gather in front of , 7446 McClure Ave.
Note: The offerings will be divided equally between the two Swissvale-area food pantries. Offerings of food items may also be given on Feb. 27 and March 13.
The Rev. Dai Morgan is pastor of Living Spirit Ministry-Swissvale United Methodist Church.