Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lent for Dummies [and Presbyterians] part 1 of 3: Introduction

Next week begins the Church Season of Lent or Lententide.  Because so many of us did not grow up in churches that made much use of the Church calendar, and because Lent has a way of sneaking up to catch us off guard, a bit of preparation for the Season of Preparation is in order.

Despite the impression given by many Protestants, Lent is far from a Roman Catholic invention.  There were various set times of fasting mentioned by the early Church Fathers, but the first mention of Lent from history comes in the writings of the Council of Nicea [A.D. 325] which refer to the 40 days of fasting and preparation in Spring.
In the centuries since then it has undergone changes and timing adjustments, but remains a fixed part of the yearly Church cycle.  Just as the preparations of Advent precede the celebrations of Christmas, so the preparations of Lent precede the celebrations of Easter.  Humility before Exaltation.

Originally called “The Forty”, its name was changed to “Lent” referring to the lengthening of days at the start of Spring [and allowing less misunderstanding for the football fans among us].
Many Christians from many different denominations and backgrounds observe Lententide as a time of “focused devotion upon the Lord Jesus Christ” and “a season of repentance, struggle, and self-denial.” [Strawbridge]

In Scripture, 40 days mark an important and complete season for God’s people.  I submit to you that it is especially effective as a period of habit breaking and/or cultivation.  But more on that in part 2.
Lent derives directly from a remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of temptation and victory over the Devil in the Judean desert.  He triumphed in forty days where Israel failed for forty years.
You will notice that this year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 5th and ends Saturday April 19.  If you add up the squares on the calendar you will find that the total is 46 days.  This is because the 6 Sundays in between are excluded from the normal 40 since they are Lord’s Days – and every Sunday is a mini-Easter in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection.  Thus many Christians do not maintain their Lenten fasts on Sundays [in fact, some early Church fathers prohibited any fasting on Sundays].

In imitation of our Lord, in keeping with healthy Church traditions, in preparation for the celebration of Easter, and for a well-needed time of focused intensity about our own walks with and before the Lord, I encourage you to consider observing Lent this year.

Part 2-Putting Off.

1 comment:

Tea Lady said...

Thank you so very much, Ben, for encouraging us in practical ways for us to grow in our love for the Lord and for others! We always need to be challenged to "put off and to put on." Your examples were excellent.
Lent seems an appropriate season to stretch in our growth in being like Christ. How often do we operate out of a "Zap" mentality towards holiness? We forget Paul's admonition to "work out our salvation." How? With fear and trembling? You mean with humility and reverence and perseverance?