The Journey of Lent
“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
Genesis 8:22 indicates God created the natural world to have rhythms, patterns, and seasons. For instance, the cold winter months we now experience (except in Florida) will eventually lead to warmer temperatures, budding flowers, and more extended daylight. After a period characterized by more rain than usual, we prepare for summer weather with even warmer temperatures. We eventually return to autumn months with leaves falling, cooler temperatures, and shorter daylight. Back to winter, and then it starts all over again.
As humans, we live by rhythms, patterns, and seasons established by the natural order. We are all given 24 hours in a day and spend the day sleeping, eating regularly, and going to work or school. After five days of this pattern, many people attempt to create a new schedule for the weekend. Saturday and Sunday include rest, worship, family activities, and things that cannot be done during the week. Monday begins the weekly pattern again. Weeks continue into months, and we look forward to holidays, times of rest, and vacations, especially during the summertime. Before we realize it, another year has come and gone.
What is Lent?
The early Church saw the value of rhythms, patterns, and seasons for its worship and community life. Jesus the Messiah, their Lord and Savior, was at the center of all aspects of the Christian life. Believers gathered weekly on Sunday because of his resurrection. They developed the Church calendar arranged around his life. Advent begins the Church year. It comes from the Latin word adventus and means "coming." Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve (December 24th). It enables Christians to celebrate Jesus coming into the world, coming into our lives, and his imminent second coming.
The season of Lent includes the 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays). It begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on the Saturday before Easter. The number of days is modeled after Jesus’ time in the wilderness preparing for ministry. He faced temptation from the devil in an attempt to keep him from his mission.
Lent began in the fourth century A. D. as a period of preparation for those baptized on Easter Sunday. Those new converts spent a focused time of prayer and study, so they knew exactly what was involved in the Christian life. These new members were received into the Christian community, and eventually, every Christian participated in some type of preparation process for Easter.
Today, Lent is a time for all believers to prepare for Easter. It has traditionally been a time of repentance, self-examination, renewal, and fasting. In the early Church, people often fasted or abstained from food. Today, during Lent, people may periodically fast from food. However, often people will refrain from or "give up" specific things like sugar, soda, television, or social media as a way of surrendering the importance of something and replacing it with times of prayer and Bible reading. This should not be seen as a legalistic obligation but as an opportunity to draw closer to God and experience him in new ways.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent. During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, ashes are applied to the worshiper’s forehead in the shape of a cross. In Scripture, ashes or dust symbolize mortality (Genesis 18:27), mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jonah 3:6). The ashes are a sign of humility and remind recipients that they come from dust and to dust they shall return one day. Ashes encourage repentance and call Christians to “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
Some churches within the Evangelical community avoid Lent's observance because they believe it’s a legalistic obligation only traditional or liturgical churches observe. This is extremely unfortunate. The season of Lent can positively impact our Christian walk.
Lent can refocus our lives by causing us to consider
Christ's life and ministry
His death and resurrection
Our need for a Savior
Our need for repentance
Fasting and surrender
The need for self-examination
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, February 17th. The entries in this Blog throughout the season of Lent will focus on Bible passages related to the topics listed above. I encourage you to prayerfully consider how Lent can be a tool to help focus your heart and mind on Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.