Happy Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day!!
Tomorrow is the first day of Lent, but what is Lent? Is it in the Bible? What are we meant to be doing during this time? And why?
Let’s start with the basics: What is Lent?
Lent is the season of the church calendar that lasts from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. This is a total of 46 days, or 40 days if you do not count the Sundays.
Lent is not a season that is mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but was actually started by the early church with historical writings suggesting such a season as early as 130 AD (although at this point it was thought to be only 2-3 days long, rather than 40. Originally, Lent was a time of fasting – only one meal would be eaten each day and there would be no meat, fish or other animal products. Around 600 AD Gregory the Great moved the beginning of Lent from a Sunday to a Wednesday, now known as Ash Wednesday.
The 40 days of Lent, reflect the 40 days that Jesus spent living in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, where he was tempted by the devil (you can read about this in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13). The act of fasting and praying reflected the temptations that Jesus had to face as well as focusing the hearts, minds and bodies of those taking part onto the Lord.
So, what is Lent now?
Today, Lent is observed largely by Catholics and by some Protestant denominations (including the Church of England). Even much of our secular society take part in this season, although usually for very different reasons. The purpose of Lent has not changed – it is still 40 (or 46) days dedicated to preparing our hearts for celebrating the season of Easter through a time of self-discipline, fasting or moderation, sacrifice, reflection, repentance and prayer.
How should we observe Lent?
As Lent is a man-made creation, and is not from scripture, there is no requirement for us to observe Lent at all, and it is certainly not a requirement for our salvation. However, this is a season that has been observed for almost 2000 years, and has had a profound impact upon many people throughout this time, helping them to better understand and celebrate the season of Easter. In my understanding there are two strands for how we should observe Lent.
Firstly, through sacrifice. As we look reflect upon Jesus’ time in the wilderness, and look towards the ultimate sacrifice that he made upon the cross, we ourselves can choose to sacrifice something in our own lives. This could be a habit such as watching TV or a certain food/drink such as chocolate or wine; but it should be a sacrifice. This should be something that leads us closer to God. For example, we give up watching TV because it has become a distracting habit and we use this time instead to study the Bible; or we give up chocolate and every time we think about wanting chocolate, we ask God for strength to overcome that temptation. We need to be clear about our motivations here – Lent is not simply a chance for us to try out a new diet, but to grow closer to God.
Secondly, we should take up a special devotional activity. Many churches will run Lent Groups throughout the season for you to attend so definitely check out whether your church is running any; however, this is also something you could do alone. In addition to your regular devotional time, how could you use this season to dedicate yourself further to time with God – especially focusing upon the themes of repentance and prayer. Some ideas could be to study through the whole of a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to study Jesus’ life from birth to death; to find a Lent Bible-reading plan on the YouVersion Bible App or to keep a prayer journal for each day of Lent.
How are you going to use this season of Lent to prepare your heart for Easter through self-discipline, repentance and prayer?