What is Lent?
It is based on the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry. (Sundays are not counted, so Lent is actually 46 days long)
During the second century it became customary to baptise all converts on Easter Sunday. During those ages of persecution and martyrdom, they had to be thoroughly prepared for the confession of their faith and for their challenging walk with the Lord.
These preparations lasted 40 days – not counting Sundays. Fasting and Prayer played an important role alongside the teaching the converts would receive during this time.
After a while, other Church members felt the need to repeat the course. This season, always during the European Spring, became the Lenten Season of the Church as Lent is Latin for Spring. Lent reaches its climax on Good Friday and ends with the Celebration of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
There are two important aspects to Lent:
Penitence: We realise our own brokenness and our need for Christ.
Preparation: We strive to open our hearts wider for the celebration of Easter.
During Lent there are three tasks: Pray, Fast and Give.
Prayer is about Preparing our Hearts, becoming more aware of God’s love and goodness. It’s not just about rituals but relationship.
Fasting doesn’t only have to be about food. It’s any kind of addition to or subtraction from our lives that sharpens our focus on God.
Giving is about making a difference in the lives of others.
The idea around Lent is that we add to and subtract from our lives so that we don’t just move forward but God-ward. Traditionally there are three directions for our “fasting” to take:
God (through prayer, reflection and action)
Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)
Others (through charity and kindness)
So, here are some examples:
Give up sugar or coffee and use the “cravings” as a reminder to think about and devote yourself to God.
Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier for devotions or exercise.
Reduce your TV hours and use the time to read a good devotional book or to spend quality time with your family.
Volunteer some time to help at a charitable organisation or do something to help the poor and needy.
Come to church more regularly or join a fellowship group for the 6 weeks
Where does Shrove Tuesday fit in?
In many Christian traditions people would abstain from rich foods during this fast time. As Wednesday is the start of Lent, Tuesday would be used as a day to use up the “rich” foods (eggs, butter, oil, milk, etc) in the house. Pancakes serve this purpose very well! Also, Jesus reminded His disciples that they should not look mournful when they fasted and so the church found it fitting to start a fast with a feast!
Job 42:5-6. Job says to God: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Ash Wednesday is primarily a day of repentance – of sorrow because of what our sins do to God, His work and those around us.
According to the Bible, repentance consists of:
a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness;
an expectation of God’s grace and mercy in Christ
an actual hatred of sin
turning from sin to God
seeking a holy life by persistent effort, obediently walking with God.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation but worldly sorrow brings death. (2Cor7:10)
In the very traditional observation of Ash Wednesday, worshippers come forward to confess and repent of their sin in silent prayer. They are marked with the sign of the cross, using a paste of ash and olive oil. The ash represents the sorrow and contriteness we feel over our sin. The olive oil represents joy, blessing and consecration which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are marked with the sign of the cross to remind us that it is Christ who saves us.
Often as they are marked, the priest or elder will say “Your sins are forgiven – go and sin no more.”
Ash Wednesday starts the “Fasting” of Lent on the right foot – we realise how badly we need God.
For Lent the daily email devotions are going to focus on gearing up our hearts for Easter. They arrive between 8h15 and 8h45 – Tue-Fri. If you’d like to join for Lent devotions, you can subscribe at http://eepurl.com/dhGrzL (you don’t need to do this if you already get the EmmDev emails.) You can email Theo to subscribe you.
While one tries to observe these “fasts” and observances as well as possible, there must be no legalism about this. We are not trying to impress God. We’re trying to prepare our hearts. Don’t be guilt-wracked if you don’t manage it all the time.
Lent is an opportunity rather than a burden and we pray that yours will be meaningful!