This past week I was on duty for my monthly task of preparing and serving lunch at the Clinton County Senior Center in St. Johns. After lunch had been served I sat down with a table full of people to enjoy my lunch when the conversation turned to questions about Lent. Ash Wednesday—which falls on March 5th this year—marks the first day of the Lenten season for many Christians (such as Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists), and people at the table were wondering about where the tradition came from, how long it lasted, and why was it important. I was glad to share what I knew about it. Lent is not something our church tradition officially practices, but in my growing up days as a Roman Catholic, I remember it was something my family encouraged me to observe. It usually involved giving up something like eating chocolate or not watching TV excessively, although the year I was confirmed when I was 12 years old (in the Episcopal church at that point), I also memorized things like the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed.
About.com describes Lent as a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose of Lent is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ—his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial, and resurrection. Although the Bible does not specifically mention Lent, it does mention the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes.
Wikipedia.com explains that Lent traditionally lasts for forty days, representing the time that Jesus spent in the desert as he prepared for the start of his public ministry. During that time Jesus endured temptation by Satan. The word “Lent” means “springtime.” Since the Easter season is always in the spring, Lent became known as this period leading up to Easter.
As with any practice of faith, it can become a mere tradition that loses its meaning if not careful. For instance, many believers feel they can satisfy their lusts by indulging in gluttony, violence and uninhibited sex during the time of Carnival, also known as Mardi Gras, in the week before Ash Wednesday. The false perception is that by getting the lusts of the flesh “out of their system,” they can then fast from these things during Lent and become “proper” Christians. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy all those delicious Polish pastries known as Paczki that come out in the grocery stores before Lent starts, but that is not how Christian faith works. The attitude and behavior which thinks it is okay to live in debauchery one day but then live righteously the next is what leads to hypocrisy in the life of a Christ follower.
The days leading up to Easter (call it Lent if you prefer) can serve a positive purpose when we reflect on our walk with God and re-examine the significance of what Jesus did for us. Rather than simply fast from chocolate, we should move into a fast from sin, and feel true sorrow for our offenses against God. In that way Easter becomes even more of a celebration as Christ’s sacrifice moves us into a faith that is free from materialistic obstacles and superficial religion.
Working Together to Win Together,