This Sunday, Pastor reminded us that both Valentine’s day and the beginning of Lent was on Wednesday.
“What did you give up for Lent?” was asked of me several years ago and it really did not register what that meant. I figured it was like a second chance at a New Year’s Resolution for those who had already abandoned theirs.
In Jesus’ day, the people gamely tried to obey the written law to win God’s favor. The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously taught the law to people looking for freedom from the Romans, adding many human safeguards so there would be no chance that someone might transgress a commandment by accident.
So why do we observe Lent in the Christian life today? What are the reasons behind the tradition? I really don’t find anywhere in the Scripture that admonishes us to observe a specific time and or season of fasting and personal supplication outside of admonishment to a continued and constant part of the Christians life.
Around the church, Lent and the Easter tradition has become an opportunity to bring us closer to God. The Pastor is preaching on the great “I ams” of Jesus. But in reality, it will be one more lost opportunity to be called of God to a higher place with Him. That’s surprising, especially since Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Early church father Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.
In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church. How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church’s Lent was one week shorter but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten.
There has been many changes and interpretations to the length and scope of this season. Never-the-less, Lent is still devoutly observed in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably for Anglicans and Episcopalians), others hardly mention it at all. However, there seems to be potential for evangelicals to embrace the season again as a promoting fasting as a forerunner to revival. For many evangelicals who see the early church as a model for how the church should be today, a revival of Lent may be the next logical step.