Lent: What is it? Why is it?
The highlight of the year for Christians is Easter, the day when they believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for Easter. Lent always begins on a Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.
Why 40 days? Because, of the bible story that tells of how Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Lent, then, is a time of fasting, prayer, temptation and repentance for believers. Lent is not required anywhere in scriptures, but it has been a custom, which Christians have practiced for most of the last two thousand years.
In many languages, the word "Lent" actually means "fast." This is where the custom of giving up something for Lent originated.
However, just to confuse things, Lent is actually 46 days rather than 40 days. Why? Because the 40 days of Lent are supposed to be days of fasting, which means days of discipline and self-restraint. But Sunday, the day designated as the Lord's day by Christians, should never be a day of fasting, but a day of celebration. So each Sunday Christians suspend Lenten disciplines and celebrate. Lent is 40 "fasting" days spread out over a total of 46 days beginning on Ash Wednesday.
The focus of Lent was always threefold:
- It was a time to prepare new converts for baptism through intensive classes and instruction.
- It was a time for long-standing Christians to review their lives and renew their commitment to their beliefs.
- It was a time for backsliders to be re-indoctrinated into the faith.
In every case, it is supposedly a time for serious, disciplined self-examination. For most Christians, though, it is simply a time when they give up eating a favorite food.
To represent the dark and serious business of Lent, one custom has been to strip the sanctuary of all flowers, candles, and colors during Lent.
Put simply, Lent is a time for self-examination. Here are some questions upon which everyone should meditate during Lent:
- Am I sharing gladly what I have with others, especially the stranger and the poor?
- Do I have a gracious and patient attitude with others, especially those who irritate me?
- Is it time for a change or a growth in my Bible study and the way I view my faith?
- What are the lurking problems, which still plague me?
- Am I as thoughtful and forgiving of family as others, or do I take my frustrations out on them?
- Do I speak up for the maligned and oppressed, or do I remain silent in order to remain popular?