Ash Wednesday begins the season Christians have long termed Lent.

In the first centuries of the church, Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of a time of grief over sin by donning sackcloth, being sprinkled with ashes, and standing removed from the Christian community as a kind of exile in repentance and penance. On Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the penitent believer was reconciled to the community.

Oxh973 / Public domain

Round about a thousand years ago, this rigorous observance of Ash Wednesday began to soften into the more symbolic placing of ashes on the heads of the whole church family (often in the form of a cross on the forehead), as a reminder of our mortality, and our need for reconciliation with God.

Some churches will use the ashes from burning the palms waved on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and will nail that year’s Christmas tree, now shed of its needles and branches, into the form of a cross for the Lenten season.

The word “Lent” comes from the old English “lencten,” meaning “spring,” the season preceding the remembrance of Jesus’ death and the celebration of His rising from the dead.

Keeping Lent is to fast and pray for forty days, in imitation of Jesus’ fasting and prayer in the wilderness before He began His ministry, “The Kingdom of God is at Hand,” which in turn was a fulfillment of the Israelites’ time of wandering in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land. This may be one of the oldest traditions among believers, beginning as early as the 1st century, although it did not become a formal observance until the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

In the earliest days, Lent was a time of preparation for the those who desired baptism as well as a time of repentance and penance for believers, which included severe fasting and the giving of alms.

In modern times, many people who observe Lent will still select something to fast from—in recent centuries that ‘something’ was traditionally red meat, and fish became the dish for Friday supper. In ancient times fasting was much more strictly adhered to: one vegan meal a day, eaten in the evening. Today, Lenten observers may fast from a kind of food, an activity, an indulgence or luxury of some kind, or certain behaviors.

This time of contemplation, prayer, fasting, repentance, and penance culminates in both remembering Jesus’ death and the death of every believer’s old life with Him, nailed to the cross…

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:4 (NIV)

…and rejoicing in the joyful celebration of Easter, the rising up from the dead of our Lord and Savior, and us with Him into new life.

The deep significance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are found in the Passover.

I wanted our children to understand that deep significance, to experience something of what the Passover meant, and to understand Who Jesus was as the Lamb Who would take away the sins of the world. Thus began a nearly 30-year time of study, research, discovery, and tinkering with the many Passover services now celebrated in both Jewish, and Messianic Jewish, households today. I discovered there is evidence in the book of Acts that the 1st century church enjoyed a modified version of the Passover Seder in their weekly gatherings, often calling it a “Love Feast.”

Love Feast,” the fruit of all those years of study and celebration, follows the First Passover to the Last Supper, into the Love Feast Jesus has for us all. I put together a haggadah (according to the dictionary, a haggadah is “the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover, including a narrative of the Exodus”) which incorporates the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples, as well as explanations for some key elements in the Passover itself, as it is observed today.

The traditional Passover goes long into the night. This haggadah has been modified so that families with children of all ages (like mine) can take part, lasting about an hour and a half (including dinner and dancing). “Love Feast” includes everything you will need to hold your own Passover Seder—order and flow of the worship service, songs, a menu, a list of items you will need, and speaking parts. It concludes with some thoughts on the First Passover, the Last Supper, and our legacy in the Love Feasts of the Bible.
In remembering the last supper Jesus would have with His disciples, John wrote,

“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Jesus, as quoted in John 13:1 (NIV)

The three most intimate activities people do together are to eat together, talk together, and touch each other. For Christians, I would add worship together. These are what Jesus longed for most as the hour of His death drew near.
When Jesus began giving His final words of encouragement, teaching, and prophetic exhortation, He told His beloved followers,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus, as quoted in John 13:34 (NIV)

The early church took the Lord’s words to heart.
At its birth, the church was a group of 120 Jewish people receiving the Holy Spirit in a cataclysmic event, the compression waves of which would reverberate across the whole earth. Then, on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 faithful Jews who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks—thanksgiving for the first harvest—now became the Holy Spirit’s First Harvest of many to come.
In those first days, Luke recorded,

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Acts 2:42 (NIV)

They called these meals “Love Feasts,” in honor of Jesus Who loved them, and Who told them everyone would know they were His disciples by their own love for Him and each other.
May we continue what the early church began!

Love Feast is available in both paperback and Kindle version, the Kindle preview is below.