The Spirit of Lent
To my dear AABC family, greetings in the name of the most high One.
Imagine this conversation between a parent and child at the dinner table:
Child: What are you planning on giving up for Lent this year?
Parent: Um… I don’t know yet. I did a boba fast last year, so maybe I will just do a sugar fast or social media fast! What do you think?
A scenario such as this one may have occurred in your family this past week as we entered into the season of Lent (March 6–April 20, 2019). Whether you are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestsant, giving up something for Lent seems to be an increasingly popular and common practice in Christian circles, so this is the time of year that the question of what to give up goes viral across ALL social media. Lifeway Research surveyed the top 100 most-mentioned Lenten sacrifices in 2018 based on 29,609 tweets. Here’s the Top 10:
- Social networking
- Fast food
Quite a list, isn’t it? I wonder what you have fasted from in the past Lenten seasons and what you are fasting from this year. I also wonder how many of us understand the meaning behind Lent or know how to observe Lent in the biblical way. If you are curious to find out, please read on!
What is Lent?
Lent is a season of 40 days, not counting Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday. Lent is known to be a solemn time for religious and sincere people to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They do this through repentance of sin, reflection of spiritual life, dedication of prayer and fasting from anything that brings them pleasure. The purpose is to anchor their souls in Jesus Christ and to saturate their heart with the Holy Spirit for the preparation of Easter. This is often related to Jesus’s 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–2).
Although Lent may seem like a heartfelt practice with a very clear and sound intention, I was inclined to examine whether its historical origin aligns with biblical perspectives. I came across an insightful book on Lent, The Two Babylons. The author, Alexander Hislop, stated, “The festival, of which we read in Church history, under the name of Easter, in the third and fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Roman Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter. The festival (Passover) was not idolatrous, and it was preceded by no Lent."
According to Hislop, Lent was not observed by the first-century church. In fact, throughout the New Testament, Lent was never mentioned or commanded by Christ or His disciples. However, Jesus did command His disciples to love the Lord and their neighbors (Matt. 22), to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19–20), and to keep Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (Matt. 26). So when did Lent enter the scene? Lent was first addressed by the church at Rome during the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. And 35 years later, in A.D. 360, the Council of Laodicea officially commanded that Lent be observed. Now, if Lent was not mentioned in the Bible or commanded by Jesus, how then should we approach the observation of Lent?
How to observe Lent in the biblical way?
Although the Bible does not mention the observation of Lent, we should not discount the impact that Lent has brought to so many whose lives have been transformed by praying and giving up desires of the flesh to gain more intimacy with Christ. So I am not at all suggesting that we forgo the practice; on the contrary, I am suggesting that we should go beyond the 40-day prayer and fast to turn the repentance of our sin and the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice into a daily reflection and celebration.
If your conviction about the observation of Lent is that it is consistent with the Bible, then continue in your practice. If you perceive that the observation is inconsistent with the Bible, then refrain from this practice. Whether you choose to celebrate or refrain, one thing I encourage you to do is to guard your heart from judging or condemning those who choose the opposite. Ultimately, Lent is not about giving up something to make us feel superior; rather, it is about gaining more of Jesus to make our intimacy with Christ stronger. After all, the cross of Christ levels us all, and the grace of God frees us all.
The Scripture says in Psalm 63:1–5, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you."
Whether you choose to attend an Ash Wednesday service or decide to refrain from all observations of Lent, what is most important is the discipline of hungering and thirsting for deep intimacy with God.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the most high one! Amen.