WHAT IS LENT? (Not Lint!)

Even though most readers know about Lent, since it begins this Wednesday I want to highlight some basics about it in this post. Called the Lenten tradition, Lent is a 40-day season in which Christians focus on their faith as they look forward to and prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Often associated with Roman Catholic tradition and practice, Lent is certainly not limited to Catholicism as many believers in a variety of denominations and churches participate. While much of what takes place during Lent has biblical connections, the actual Lenten season is not prescribed in the New Testament. As meaningful as observing Lent can be and is for many Christians, not all observe it nor are they commanded to do so.

The first mention of the practice of Lent is found in the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. The celebration of Easter Sunday and Jesus’ resurrection, however, began much earlier. The emphasis upon 40 days comes from the biblical account of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness following his baptism. The time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday is actually more than 40 days, but Sundays are not counted – Sundays are feast days because Sunday is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

Ash Wednesday and the marking of Christians with an ashen cross was added in the 600s. The usage of ashes underscores human mortality and our need for repentance. Participation in Ash Wednesday is not required in order to participate in the Lenten season. There is no one way to observe Lent as Christians have celebrated the season in a variety of ways.

Simply stated, engaging in Lent is a season of intentional focus on reflection, repentance, prayer, Bible reading, confession, humility, and devotion in anticipation of remembering, acknowledging, and celebrating Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Many believers also include fasting as a part of their expression of devotion during this season. Fasting usually refers to eating and food, but is not limited to food. Nor is fasting in terms of eating always a total fast from food. People have fasted from meat, desserts, coffee, soda, and a variety of choices for a day, a week, or the entire period of Lent. Beyond food and drink, some fast from TV, radio, the news, or other activities that they set aside or give up to focus on the season.

Through the years I’ve tried a lot of things during this season to focus and enhance my faith and devotion. Some have been more helpful than others. I’m look forward to beginning tomorrow a book of readings entitled TO SEEK AND TO SAVE: DAILY REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO THE CROSS by Sinclair B. Ferguson. I hope these thoughts have been informative and encouraging.

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