What Is Lent?
What is lent? …. Is it scriptural? …. Should we observe it or not? Here’s an uber short FAQ on this historic practice on the Christian calendar …
The spirit behind the season of Lent is beautiful: it is a time to prepare the hearts of the church to celebrate Easter. A time of anticipating the victory of the light and life of Christ over the darkness of sin and death.
This year, the season of lent is from Wednesday March 6 – Thursday April 18.
It is a season of intentional reflection on the brokenness of humanity while building anticipation for Easter by celebrating the reality of God’s redeeming grace.
For some, lent recalls a burdensome, legalistic time of religious observance, but for others, it is freely observed and enjoyed in a reflective and meaningful way. This observance is not a biblical requirement, but rather is a historical tradition.
Participation in lent could be lovingly encouraged, but should never be mandated. The question for us to reflect on as we head towards Easter is not “what will I give up during Lent” but “what did Christ in His grace give up for me?”
What is Lent?
In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit where He fasted and prayed for 40 days. During that time He was tempted and overcame Satan. The season of Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter when the church would prepare their hearts to celebrate Easter. This practice is not mandated by the Scripture any more than December 25th is the day Jesus was born.
It is simply a historic practice for intentional reflection and spiritual recalibration that often includes setting aside specific times dedicated for prayer, fasting or engaging in acts of compassion. This 40 day period excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like Easter – a time for gospel celebration.
What is Mardi Gras or “Shrove Tuesday”?
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.” It refers to the day before Lent starts. Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, the day before is “Shrove Tuesday”. It’s called “Fat” or “Great” because it’s associated with great food and parties.
Historically, lent has been a time of fasting and repentance. Since you wouldn’t want to be tempted by sweets and other distractions in your house, you’d cleaned out your cabinets and use up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started.
What is Ash Wednesday?
This is the Wednesday 40 days before Easter that begins the season of Lent. Christians recognize life as a precious gift from God, and the grace of God has drawn us to faith in Christ. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday services were a time where after the preaching of the gospel, the minister would mark the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead with ashes to serve as a reminder of God’s grace for them in the gospel.
The ashes symbolize both mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies become dust/dirt/ash. Repentance, because in the Old Testament, ashes on the forehead was a sign that a person was in confession, asking for forgiveness. The finished work of Christ has retired the need for the Old Testament practice in repenting, so the gesture by those who do this today is merely symbolic.
Where did the ashes come from?
Historically, the church saved the palms from Palm Sunday, burned them, and mixed them with a little oil. This was a symbolic way of showing that the palms that were waved in joy became ashes of sorrow because many in the crowd that waved them shouting “Hosanna!” shouted “crucify Him!” a week later.
Preparing your heart for the Easter Celebration:
While we don’t hold traditional lent services at Redeemer, we appreciate the value in a time for intentional reflection and re-focus. Maybe you’d consider fasting a meal and spending that time in prayer. I heard it once said that “when we fast, our rumbling stomach preaches a sermon to us: it remind us that our life comes to us from outside us. From Christ alone.” I found that to be helpful imagery on this spiritual discipline.
Perhaps your family would consider taking some time each week around your dinner table to pray or read from the Gospels to prepare your hearts to celebrate Easter. If you’re interested, there are some great, short devotionals made available by Redeemer NYC for the season of Lent available here.
Regardless of how you choose to observe this season leading up to Easter, may your heart be encouraged as you reflect on the truth that Christ has saved you single-handedly and definitively.
His sacrifice for you at the cross for you was perfect in every respect. The sacrifices we make are acts of love, from freedom, to remember and celebrate His amazing grace.
The Father planned your redemption, the Son accomplished it and the Spirit is now applying it. It is finished.