Tuesday, March 8, 2011


So, what’s the big deal about Lent? What is it all about, anyway?

Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

In a general way, the traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The season of Lent has been around for thousands of years. It initially developed during the early years of Christianity. Most of the new Christians were baptized during a long service called The Easter Vigil. The Lenten season was a time for preparation and consideration of what it meant to be a disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ. The length of the Lenten season was forty days to represent the forty days of Jesus fasting in the wilderness. The forty days began with Ash Wednesday and ended at midnight, just before The Day of Resurrection. The forty days did not include the five Sundays in Lent because those were days that the faithful observe Jesus’ resurrection.

As the Christian religion developed, with its connection with the Holy Roman Empire, the season of Lent was reshaped as the church gave instructions on how to observe Lent. Christians were not to eat meat or fish, sometimes not even eggs or dairy products. Furthermore, they were limited to one meal a day. In the Ninth Century, fasting restrictions were gradually loosed. In the Roman Catholic tradition, meat was allowed by the Twentieth Century, except on Fridays. In 1966, the Roman Catholic Church began a trend toward penitential works, such as acts of charity in conjunction with Lent.

With the advent of the Reformation, the practices of Lent were rethought, especially by Martin Luther. The church at that time had developed a strong practice of “good works.” In one of his sermons on the First Sunday of Lent, Martin Luther said, “But the worst of all is that we have adopted and practiced fasting as a good work: not to bring our flesh into subjection; but, as a meritorious work before God, to atone for our sins and obtain grace. And it is this that has made our fasting a stench and so blasphemous and shameful, so that no drinking and eating, no gluttony and drunkenness, could have been as bad and foul. It would have been better had people been drunk day and night than to fast thus.” (Martin Luther did not mince words.)

What has developed, for many people in the current culture, is a practice of self-abstinence for personal reasons, such as dieting, giving up chocolate, or some other practice to improve their personal well-being. Often the practice of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer have gone by the wayside. There seems to be some perception of Lenten practices as irrelevant to one’s faith.

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the three usual considerations of Lent. These have developed because of Jesus’ comments on how we should practice piety in our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that our focus should continue to be the focus of preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter. Such preparation and recollection of baptism and Easter needs to consider the holy days before Easter of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the time that Jesus spent with his disciples in the Upper Room initiating The Lord’s Supper and his anguish, beginning with the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, it also seems to me that Lent is an opportunity to rethink who we are, what are purpose in life is, and how to respond, not only from the mind but the heart, to God’s will each day of our lives.

Besides considering fasting and almsgiving, we need to be in daily prayer, worship regularly, and read the Book of Faith. All of these open up to us the opportunity to experience a closer personal relationship with Jesus.

We claim to be Christians. Our desire is to follow Jesus. With that in mind, our practices of Lent need to focus on our personal relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. We need to develop an attitude of walking with Jesus in his ministry, entering Jerusalem, being in the Upper Room, and walking with him across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane. We need to acknowledge our own frailties, such as the disciples did when they abandoned him when he was arrested, denied him, and even betrayed him. We need to spiritually come to the foot of the cross and walk to the tomb where he was buried.

In following Jesus, we can think about losing our life so that we may find it, picking up our own cross and follow Jesus, and dying to self so that we may live.

There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no empty tomb without a cross. There is no resurrection without a crucifixion.

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