Formany, Lent is traditionally that time of the year where we pledge to give something up. It might be chocolate, coffee or alcohol. In our digital culture many people elect to abstain from FaceBook or other social media for the forty days of Lent.
But why do we give things up in Lent? Why 40 days? What is the purpose of Lent?
In the Christian calendar, Lent is the season preceding Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days, finishing on Easter Saturday. Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent as Sundays are feast days in the Church, days of celebration.
In the early Church, converts were baptized just once a year, at the Easter Vigil (Easter Saturday) so that their new life in Christ would begin on Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Candidates for baptism went through a time of preparation where they learnt about the faith and Church doctrines. This was also a time for fasting and prayer, a time for preparing their hearts and renouncing sin as they entered a new life and were accepted into the Church through baptism.
By the time of the Council of Nicea, the whole Church had adopted this practice as a season of preparation for Easter. The 40 days of Lent were a time of fasting and preparation, a joining with Jesus in His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. During Lent we also remember the suffering He went through on the cross and the sin that put Him there, our sin and that of the world. And we look to the new life that Jesus brings to us through His work on the Cross and His resurrection.
Fasting is a spiritual practice where we abstain from food and spend that time in prayer. During Lent, the Western Church allocated two days of fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, when believers partook of just one meal. For the rest of Lent, meat and alcohol were abstained from on Fridays. But abstaining from food in this way was not just about self-discipline and denial - the money saved was to be given to the poor in an act of almsgiving.
So fasting, prayer and giving to those in need are the spiritual practices of Lent. We participate in these spiritual practices not just as an automatic observance of the Church calendar but in an attitude of openness to God, a desire to grow in our faith and an acknowledgment of our dependence on Christ.
As a Church family we will be reading the Lucado’s “Pocket Prayers” during Lent. This book has 40 prayers, one for each day of Lent. Please join us by praying one prayer each day, starting on Ash Wednesday. You can share your reflections on these prayers by commenting on the blog post for the day, or sharing in your Covenant/Bible Study Group.
Another great book to read during Lent is A Place at the Table by Chris Seay which has some creative ways you can practice fasting this Lent. Seay seeks to broaden our understanding of how today's poor live as we learn the spiritual practice of fasting.
How will you be participating in Lent this season? What books will you be reading to help you with your spiritual practices? Please join in our Lenten conversation by commenting below.