I grew up in a small, Midwestern town that was about half Catholic. Lent was the time of year when my Catholic friends complained about church. I was not Catholic, so for me it was this religious thing people did to make God or their parents happy. Giving up meat on Fridays seemed a bit arbitrary and my friends couldn’t really explain why they were doing it. I just dismissed it as a thing Catholics did before Easter. No harm, no foul.
That was about all I thought about Lent until recently, when I went on a Google binge into its history and theology. Wow. If I didn’t know better I would think the Internet has some “misinformation” in it. There are as many views and opinions about Lent as denominations and religious opinions. Some writers hold Lent in high regard where others see it as an outdated ritual. What are we as modern-day Christians to do with the concept?
First some history: Lent is the period of 40 days that comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. It begins this year on February 26. Traditionally the season of Lent was meant to prepare Christians for their celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection. Believers fasted from certain meals and particular kinds of food to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by the evil one.
A few Bible verses that speak to this idea of identifying with Christ in his sufferings: Romans 8:17; Phil. 3:10 and 1 Peter 4:13. Seen through scripture, Lent is trying to get us practicing lent invites us to participate in the power of Christ’s suffering and resurrection by experiencing some self-imposed loss that culminates in a celebration.
Christian practices have evolved over the centuries to include other kinds of fasts, such as gossiping, social media, complaining, etc. At Journey, we also think of fasting as a way to remove physical habits and make more space for Jesus. Every time we become aware of what’s missing in our lives, it prompts us to turn instead to God in contemplation, prayer and gratitude.
At it’s best, that’s a good thing. Lent cultivates a deeper, heart-felt appreciation/gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice. It keeps the Cross in front of us for 40 days as we experience that same longing that Jesus felt for his people.
But, the real beauty of Lent is that it leads to victory. Sacrifice without victory is hopeless. Life is the prize. Resurrection is the joy set before us. New life that comes from sacrifice is a hope-filled existence.
In the end, Lent is about life—a life lived with the joy of the power of the resurrection.