Last Sunday I was invited to share about Lent at church, which led me to do some research and reflection on what Lent means in the Christian church. Recently we have entered into the church season of LENT. As a former pastor of mine would say, it's "Lent", not "lint". That's the fuzzy stuff that gathers in our belly buttons.
So what is Lent? How did it start and why do we do weird things like put ashes on our foreheads and try not to eat chocolate for a few weeks of the year? Lent originated in the Early Church as a time to prepare for Easter, the resurrection of the Lord. In the past the English word "Lent" was used to refer to the season between winter and summer. Because of the church observance, the word eventually came to mean the religious season, and we came up with the word "spring" for the season of the year. While some newer churches currently do not practice Lent, many of the mainstream Protestant denominations, like Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, continued in the tradition, one deep in significance.
The season of Lent lasts for 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday, and leading up to Easter, the resurrection of Christ. The 40 days exclude Easter because every Sunday is meant to remind us of the resurrection of our Lord. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent with a time of solemnity and repentance. The ashes serve as a symbol of the remorse of our hearts. We are entering into a time of suffering and sadness, but also of closeness with the Lord. We are getting a taste of the difficulties that Christ faced on Earth.
Lent is a time for not only repentance, but also removing all the distractions from our time with the Lord. It is an opportunity for discernment, for renewing our relationship with God. The idea of giving something up, like coffee, chocolate, or TV, is meant to be a fast. The goal of fasting is to bring us closer to God. Many people today give up something for the 40 days of Lent, without understanding the purpose or commitment behind it. It has become more of a health-conscious behavior or self-improvement tactic. But in reality the act of giving something up is a way of experiencing the sacrifice and the suffering that Jesus went through during his time on earth, specifically his 40 days of temptation in the desert. The time we normally spent doing other things should be spent in prayer or communion with God. It is a time for growth.
So Lent is a time to grow closer to God. It's a time to feel the suffering that Jesus felt. It's a time to renew our spirits, to remove the things that hinder us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 comes to mind. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Lent is a time to remember. To remember the life of Christ on Earth and his ministry to us. It's a time to return to Christ in the areas where we have distanced ourselves. It is a time where we hope to learn patience, self-control, and faithfulness to God. And He is with us throughout this special time, hoping that we will once again choose Him and rejoicing with us when we make that decision.