WHAT IS LENT?
The term Lent comes from an Old English word meaning “spring,” the time of “lengthening of days.” During Lent we begin to see new plant and animal life as the earth emerges from winter and moves toward another fruitful summer season. As the earth appears to awaken and bring forth new life, we can, through our observance of Lent, awaken to new spiritual awareness as well.
Lent may have begun in about the 4th century of the Common Era as a time of preparation of Christian converts for baptism at Easter time. Over time, Lent evolved into a time of fasting (abstaining from eating or following an austere, usually meatless regimen) and prayer that the entire Christian church observed as part of its preparation for Easter. Some Christian churches continue to observe Lent and some do not. Lenten practices vary, but usually include some form of self-discipline.
The Lenten observance in Christian churches of the Western world begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is said to be a 40-day season, but Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent. So the actual time between Ash Wednesday and Easter is 46 days. In 2012, Ash Wednesday is to be observed on February 22 and Easter is observed on April 8. The Lenten season concludes with Holy Week, the seven-day period immediately preceding Easter. Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ Last Supper with his 12 disciples, Good Friday, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
IS LENT BASED ON THE BIBLE?
Lent has no basis in the Bible. It is a tradition that originated in the Christian church. The Bible does include stories of 40-day (for example, Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness) and even 40-year (for example, the Hebrews’ time in the wilderness after leaving Egypt) “times of preparation,” but nothing in the Bible is directly related to the season of Lent.
One interesting fact is that, the number 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special:
The rain lasted for 40 days in the mighty flood during the days of Noah (Gen 7:17)
Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai 40 days (Ex 24:18)
Jonah gave the people of Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jon 3:4)
Jesus, before starting his ministry, spent 40 days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2)
THE JOURNEY OF LENT
For us, the journey begins on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is a way to recall a larger story than just celebration. It is a way to face the reality of the consequences of sin and the terrible toll it takes on the world. Lent calls us to examine our own lives with the prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me (Psa 139:23-24).
The journey through Lent is a way to places ourselves before God humbled, bringing in our hands no price whereby we can ourselves purchase our salvation. It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before God, to strip ourselves bare of all pretenses to righteousness, to come before God in dust and ashes. It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures, of our external piety that blinds us to the beam in our own eyes.
Through prayer that gives up self, we seek to open ourselves up before God, and to hear anew the call “Come unto me!” We seek to recognize and respond afresh to God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We seek to place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, our very lives in God’s hands, again. And we seek by abandoning ourselves in Jesus’ death to recognize again who God is, to allow His transforming grace to work in us once more.
The celebration begins in ashes. And it journeys through darkness. It is a spiritual pilgrimage that I am convinced we must all make, one way or the other, for genuine spiritual renewal to come.
The passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is quoted a lot in connection with prayer: “. . .if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This usually is quoted in the context of wanting revival or renewal in the church. The prayer is usually interpreted as intercessory prayer for others, since we too easily assume that any problem lies with someone else. Yet a careful reading of the passage will reveal that the prayer that is called for here is not intercessory prayer for others; it is penitential prayer for us. It is not to call for others to repent; it is a call for us, God’s people, to repent. It is our land that needs healed, it is our wicked ways from which we need to turn, we are the ones who need to seek God’s face.
Perhaps during the Lenten season we should stop praying for others as if we were virtuous enough to do so. Perhaps we should take off our righteous robes just long enough during these 40 days to put ashes on our own heads, to come before God with a new humility that is willing to confess, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” May be we should be willing to prostrate ourselves before God and plead, “Lord, in my hand no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” That might put us in a position to hear God in ways that we have not heard Him in a long time. And it may be the beginning of that healing for which we have so longed.
O Lord, begin with me! Here!! Now!!!
(Please leave your comments, suggestions or questions below. I would like to learn from you too, God bless.)