In the spirit of Metalia's "Ask a Jew " segments, consider this a first in an occasional series entitled "Ask a Lutheran". I know, nowhere near as exciting, as Lutherans don't have their own food rules (except ham at Christmas) or facial hair (no matter what my brother says). But we do have the 95 Theses; so THERE'S THAT.
And, I figure, start small. Or depressing. Either way, I'm starting with Lent, because that's the current season that we're in.
While not biblical, Lent has long been a tradition in Christianity. It is a 40-day liturgical season that begins on Ash Wednesday (the day after MartiGrais ) and ends on Easter. Sundays are not included in this count as they are considered "mini-Easters"TM (my made up phrase!). The number 40 is a re-occurring theme - 40 days and 40 nights Noah and his family spent at sea after the floods or 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the wilderness, for example.
Lent is a season of penance, prayer and fasting. In modern day, the fasting usually involves giving up a particular food or drink (like chocolate or caffeine, etc.). Additionally, some actually fast a day or so a week - or fast as a family on a certain day each week (they would do simple broth soup or PB sandwiches instead) and donate the $$$ not used to produce the meal to a charity. I think the most important part is not the actual fasting part - but the reflection and discussion of justice and faith that evolves within a family as a result of action of fasting. While some Catholics do fast completely (or abstain from fish, etc.) on certain days, etc., most Protestants do not follow this practice.
Generally, the three practices of Lent are prayer, fasting and charity.
In terms of church and worship during this time; it tends to be more solemn during Lent. The vestments are all purple and some congregations remove all flowers from the space and most (if not all) refrain from using the phrases "Alleluia!" or "Gloria inExcelsis !". Most also offer Wednesday mid-week Lenten services; often combined with a meal (soup supper). The first Lenten service is Ash Wednesday, where the focus is on recognizing our sinfulness and our need for Jesus' death to insure our salvation. The ash cross placed on the forehead is to be a visual reminder of our ultimate mortality, and are marked on us with the phrase, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."
As for the ashes - yes, they are traditionally made from palm leaves, though this is not a requirement in Lutheranism. I always thought my dad had an interesting take on the creation of the ashes that he used. After Epiphany (January 6, we don’t take our trees down until then!) he would cut off all the limbs off the tree and set them aside in the garage. He would then use the truck of the tree (cut in two) to create a cross that he would display in our yard during the Lenten season. He would also burn some of the trunk, mix the ashes with a bit of oil to create the Ash Wednesday ashes.
The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week; begins with Palm Sunday. This is considered the holiest time of the Lutheran Church year, as the worship reflects and relives the final days of Jesus' life. Palm Sunday, in the ultimate juxtaposition with his death on Good Friday, celebrates his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. Church members are given palm branches to wave during Palm Sunday procession. Maundy Thursday celebrated Jesus' last supper - and the creation of the Sacrament of Holy Communion (one of Lutheran sacraments). Good Friday commemorates the trial and death of Jesus.
Lent comes to an end on the Saturday evening before Easter, when most churches celebrate what is often called Easter Vigil, where congregations gather in the darkness to await arrival of Jesus and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
But don't worry, Easter is just around the corner.
(PS. Got any "Lutheran" questions for me? Just let me know.)