What is Lent and why does it last forty days?
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.
Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. (from UMC.org)
Repentance, fasting and preparation are the important aspects of Lent, and yet the least likely to be fully maintained by all but the most steadfast believers. It means giving up, taking away, doing without. It means daily, in fact, constant devotion and discipline. All the things we’re supposed to be doing to become more like Christ and yet … most of us fail to maintain our Lenten promises as quickly as we fail to keep our New Years Resolutions.
So what is the solution? How do we get where we need to be during this time? By doing exactly that … repenting, fasting, and preparing … but, in profound ways; in ways we stand a far better chance of maintaining, ways that become habits (the good kind) and, eventually, a simple, outward display of being Christian.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 1, 2017) and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday (April 15, 2017).
Repentance – intransitive verb 1 a: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life 2 a : to feel regret or contrition b : to change one’s mind
This Lenten season, let’s focus on definition 2:b, “to change one’s mind”. By focusing on that particular definition, we are striving “2:b” truly Christian. In today’s world, most issues, divisions, problems are fear-based – fearing others unlike us, fearing loss of something we value, fearing being the lesser, fearing loss of standing, fearing loss of pride.
Let’s take on the task of repentance, changing our own minds:
- About “Other”; let’s work on identifying and overcoming our phobias of “other”.
- About “Forgiveness”; let’s clear all grudges, all ill will, all animosity, all division from our personal lives, forgive others and seek our own forgiveness from others.
- About “Us vs. Them”; let’s work to see their side of the issue, to see the issue as separate from us and them, to find the common ground even if it seems too small a piece for two to stand on, and work from that point to reach mutual understanding and consensus.
Let’s take on repentance!
Fast – verb gerund or present participle: fasting – abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance. synonyms: eat nothing, abstain from food, refrain from eating, go without food, go hungry, starve oneself.
Fausset’s Bible Dictionary gives the same definition of fasting – refraining from eating food – and cites some examples of three different types of fasts:
- Normal Fast – total abstinence from food, but drinking water is allowed (Luke 4:2)
- Absolute Fast – total abstinence from food and water (Acts 9:9, Ezra 10:6, Esther 4:16)
- Partial Fast – restriction of diet by eliminating certain foods but not all (Daniel 10:3)
Pastor: What are you giving up for Lent this year?
Young Adults: Chocolates and Soda Pop
Youth & Children: Vegetables!
All the responses to the pastor’s question meet the criteria of a “partial fast”. And yet, all three answers above were too easy. There is no sacrifice in giving those things up, no sincere commitment to the act of fasting, therefore no real effort to grow closer to God. One of the answers may have even been a reward rather than a sacrifice.
Let’s do fast for Lent, but let’s take on a new approach to it:
- Let’s decide individually or as families or groups which type of fasting we’re going to do and do that.
- If we decide to participate in a normal or absolute fast, let’s set aside three days per week that are our fasting days.
- Instead of just cutting our grocery bill or trying new recipes free of those particular foods, let’s go ahead and buy what we aren’t going to eat and give it to a needy family in our neighborhood.
- Instead of the regular Wednesday or Sunday night fellowship meals at church, let’s – as churches – let’s all show up with the ingredients we would have used and then, as a group, deliver them to a local mission or food pantry.
Let’s take on fasting!
Preparation – 1: the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty 2: a state of being prepared 3: a preparatory act or measure
Repentance and fasting are part of the preparation process, but there is more that we can and should be doing to prepare our whole selves – our minds, our bodies, our spirits – for what comes at the end of Lent – the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ:
- Spend daily time in the Word, especially in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (mine will be spent here developing more of the “Seeing Red” Daily Study posts as well as the “Read-Along” posts).
- Set aside a time for daily prayer, devotion and meditation, even if it’s only 5-10 minutes (my time is the 20-minute-one-way commute to work and home).
- Spend less time being of the World (Facebook, Twitter, other social media, inundation with 24-hour news, constantly watching television, etc), and more time being in the World (electronics-free family time, one-on-one relationship building with friends, families, co-workers, employees).
- Broaden your spiritual horizons through other Christian reading materials (see the reading list below for some ideas).
- Encourage, help and support others in doing the same (if you’re in my area and would like to get a group going, contact me!).
- Give of yourself to others through volunteering.
My Lenten Reading List … so far (most links are to listings at Cokesbury.com; these are available at other sites and most in e-Books for Kindle and other readers):
- Jesus Outside the Lines, Scott Sauls (See Read Along With Me: Jesus Outside the Lines for more information).
- Fear of the Other, William Willimon
- Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren
- Standing with the Vulnerable, Gil Odendaal
- Three Simple Rules, Rueben P. Job
- America’s Original Sin, Jim Wallis
- The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
- Subversive Jesus, Craig Greenfield (on Amazon)
- Answering the Call, Meg Lassiat (UMC Candidacy Office Only)
- Giddy Up, Eunice, Sophie Hudson
Let’s take on preparation!
Let’s make Lent meaningful!