The Season of Lent is upon us. And I invite you to take advantage of practices that can be more distinctive to the Season.
Note that you are invited, not commanded, to take part! Indeed that Old Testament Community of Faith was commanded to observe seasons and practices, but those dictates have not been carried over to the New Testament. Such matters are now a matter of freedom. And without being legalistic about it, the Church has in fact wisely developed patterns for our shared lives with the Old Testament as the source of inspiration.
Take for example, fasting. Fasting is not commanded in the New Testament for Christians. But it is clearly a practice anticipated and carried on by Christians. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And when you fast” (Mat. 6:16f.)… So you might think of fasting as a “gift” rather than a “command”! It is something we may freely choose to do with accompanying benefits.
The tradition of observing a 40 day Season of Lent has developed as a time for spiritual renewal. In the wisdom of the Church’s tradition, such renewal and spiritual formation is aided by discipline. Accordingly, the Lenten disciplines are generally regarded to involve fasting, study, prayer, charity, and repentance.
Lent first began as a time of preparation for Baptism. In time it also became a time to be renewed in those initial preparations. The Baptismal journey is one of ongoing daily repentance, which is dying to sin and rising in faith to newness of life. Dying to sin is not an easy or pleasant thing! In fact, apart from the grace of God is it impossible for us. But there is no forgiveness, cleansing, and new life without the dying.
By freely placing ourselves under a discipline or observance, our lives are ordered and therefore humbled. This is a chastening and a mortifying of our sinful nature. It can sharpen our attention on what matters most!
Since You Asked…
What is the meaning of “Lent”? The English word “Lent” means “springtime”. Lent is the six-week period of spiritual discipline before Easter (40 days not counting Sundays). At an early period in the Church’s history baptisms might only be celebrated once a year at the Easter Vigil Service. Accordingly there was a period prior to this of introducing and training candidates for baptism. In time the training for baptismal candidates grew to a six week period, and this training involved fasting. The 40 days was, no doubt, modeled on the 40 days of our Lord Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness before his temptations by the devil. As the years passed the Lenten fast began to be applied, not only to the baptismal candidates, but to the church as a whole. Church members were encouraged to approach Easter in the same manner in which they had solemnly prepared for their baptisms. That is why the Season of Lent has finally developed as a time for fasting, study, prayer, acts of love, and humility. (with help from The Westminster Dictionary of Worship, edited by J.G. Davies, The Westminster Press.)