As the Christian Lenten period arrives the question of what to do often comes around. Lent is a time for repentance, fasting and giving. But what are you penitent for, who do you give to and how do you fast?
Many see Lent as a time to come closer to God. They repent of all their sins daily and fast from dusk to dawn but is that all there is too it?
No! When you repent, you need to be very honest with yourself. The penitence needs to be permanent and not just for the 40 day, which is actually 46 days. You need to say that all you repent from will not be repeated. This is really tough.
For instance, you drink (to get drunk), fornicate (commit adultry), lie, steal, kill etc and ask God to forgive you, you must not go back to these ways. These days, Christians around the world observe Lent in many ways.
Many from more orthodox and traditional denominations will still observe the fast strictly, beginning with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday and abstinence of meat, fish, eggs and fats until Easter Sunday.
Others will choose to give up just one item for Lent, more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. It is also becoming increasingly common for people to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time; such as watching TV, going to the gym, even social media.
Many Christians also use Lent to study their Bibles and pray more intensively, making use of the many devotional books and courses now available. It is best to follow an plan as it builds you up gradually and is habit forming, if you do something continuously for 4 weeks, you are most likely to do it for the rest of your life. So download a bible app and find a 40 day, special Lent plan like the 40acts challenge as a way of doing Lent differently.
Sundays during Lent are very important to Christians around the world. Where the Monday to Saturday of each of the six weeks are concerned with fasting and abstinence, the Sunday is a celebration symbolic of Christ’s resurrection. Instead of fasting, Christians hold feasts in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. The fourth and sixth Sundays are particularly important in the UK – the fourth because it is Mothering Sunday (Mother’s Day) and the sixth because it’s Palm Sunday.
So where does Lent come from?
The earliest mention of Lent in the history of the Church comes from the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The council of Nicaea is best known for the profession of faith – the ‘Nicene Creed’ – which is still recited in most parishes every Sunday immediately after the sermon. “I believe in God The Father Almighty…” However, the council also issued twenty canons of a practical nature, dealing with various aspects of church life, and the fifth of these canons speaks of Lent.
The word used for Lent in this fifth canon is tessarakonta (in the original Greek), which means ‘forty’. For the first time in recorded history, we have mention of this period of preparation for Easter as lasting forty days. Much earlier, Christians had introduced Easter Sunday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Soon afterwards, a period of two or three days preparation, specially commemorating Christ’s passion and death – the ‘Holy Week’ part of Lent today – had been adopted by various Christian communities. But the first mention of a preparatory period lasting the forty days comes from this fifth canon of Nicaea.
The length of time was adopted in imitation of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished. (Matthew 4:1-2)
In many languages the word for Lent implies ‘forty’: Quaresima deriving from quaranta (forty) in Italian; Cuaresma coming from cuarenta in Spanish; Carêmederiving from ‘quarante’ in French. The English word ‘Lent’ has another, very beautiful derivation. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon (early English) word meaning to ‘lengthen’. Lent comes at a time when the hours or daytime are ‘lengthening’, as spring approaches, and so it is a time when we too can ‘lengthen’ spiritually, when we can stretch out and grow in the Spirit.In the English language, indeed, we have a beautiful play on the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, which are pronounced identically;
Just as the sun was seen to do the work of ‘lengthening’ the days in spring, so it is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who does the work of ‘lengthening’ in our spiritual growth.
The Significance of 40!
There are also other moments in the bible that make 40 a very significant number:
- Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God where he received the 10 Commandments (Exodus 24:18)
- Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8)
- God sent 40 days and nights of rain (Genesis 7:4)
- The Children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert (Numbers 14:33)
- Jonahs prophecy of Judgement gave 40 days to the city of Ninevah in which to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).
- Jesus retreated into the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days, where he was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–2, Mark 1:12–13, Luke 4:1–2).
What are you gonna do?
There is absolutely no pressure on you to stop eating or give up anything but as a Christian you could at least think about. What can I give up for Lent? Coffee? Tea? Chocolate? Swearing? Chips?
Start small if you have never fasted and gradually you will find it easier. As aforementioned, it does not have to be meat, fish or any food. It could be as simple as not using Facebook or buying online.
Whatever you choose make sure.you can stick to it. Don’t forget, God loves you regardless. Just be true to yourself. Don’t forget it is also the season of giving. Remember the poor the widows, the sick and the needy. Be your brothers keeper.
Happy Ash Wednesday and welcome to Lent.
Courtesy of PENIEL CHURCH of CHRIST http://www.penielchurchofchrist.co.uk