I write this on Valentine’s Day knowing full well that stores everywhere are poised for tomorrow, ready to slash prices on chocolate, liquidate all heart-shaped merchandise, and swap out reds and pinks for the Kelly green of St. Patrick’s Day. The rotation of pop-up displays in every convenience store reminds us that our culture--and in large part our lives--is shaped by a corporate calendar. Next week, however, marks the beginning of Lent in the Church calendar. I’ve been thinking about Lent and how it can shape our lives.
The History of Lent
You won’t find Lent in the Bible. Perhaps that’s why many churches eschew marking its passage. Even the specific origin of Lent is unknown, shadowed within history of the early church*. What we do know is that Lent developed as a preparatory season before Easter, focusing people on repentance and spiritual discipline, preparing them to receive Jesus as a powerful and risen Savior.
Lent consists of forty days stretching from Ash Wednesday to Easter. (The Sundays in Lent are not counted among the 40 days because Sundays are always feast days not fast days for the Church. So Lent consists of 46 consecutive days.) Lent is a period of seven weeks set aside to prepare the Church for the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The 40 day duration recalls both the 40 days Jesus spent in wilderness after his baptism and before his public ministry (Matthew 4:1-2) and the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33-34).
The Purpose of Lent
Put simply, Lent is a season of preparation for the Church. In the same way that Advent prepares Christians for the celebration of Jesus’s birth, so Lent prepares Christians for his re-birth at Easter. That preparation often takes the form of repentance; this follows from Jesus's own words: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17).
For the Christian, repentance is a turning from sin to God. It’s a changing of attitude, word, and lifestyle. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, rightly said: ‘All of life is repentance.’ But Lent provides a particular season for focusing on repentance, just as Easter provides a particular time to focus on resurrection, which really is celebrated every Sunday.
This Lent, as the Church prepares for Easter, how might you prepare yourself through repentance?
*This idea and others in this post have been helpfully shaped by an article entitled ‘Lent’ by Craig Higgins. It can be found here.Image: The Temptation In The Wilderness by Briton Riviere