Lent--the very name conjures up images of self-denial, of giving up chocolate or television. Perhaps it evokes memories of fish sticks served in the school cafeteria on Friday. Perhaps it means nothing at all.
What is Lent? Who celebrates? Where did it originate? And does it hold any relevance at all for Protestant Evangelicals?
Lent--the 40-weekday period preceding Easter--begins on Ash Wednesday. Catholics traditionally celebrate Lent as a time of penance and fasting, a time of self-examination and recommitment. Protestants, on the other hand, are mixed in their observance of Lent. Some attend Ash Wednesday services and observe Maundy Thursday with communion. For others, it’s merely a passing reference to the days before Easter.
There’s no scriptural command to observe Lent. It developed from three traditions. Early Christians observed a brief fast in the days before Easter, a fast that lengthened over time to 40 days. The second tradition included a period of intense preparation that new converts underwent before baptism on Easter Sunday. The third tradition involved welcoming back penitent sinners who had fallen away and wished to rededicate themselves to Christ. Lent, therefore, became a time of dedication, of self-scrutiny, and of bringing oneself under the Lordship of Jesus Christ once again.
Evangelicals are mixed in our feelings toward Lent. Scripture tells us that we don’t need to observe special days or seasons. (Gal. 4:10) Yet Paul allows that some may consider one day more sacred and regard that day as special to the Lord, while another considers each day alike, but still gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:5-7) There is room for the work of the Holy Spirit in each heart.
So why should we care about Lent?
Perhaps the best analogy I’ve heard this year is that Lent is a Christian’s “Spring Training.” Each spring professional baseball players come together to practice as a team, to work out the problems of last season, and get themselves into shape. Everybody’s supposed to report-- eager, young rookies, seasoned players, out-of-shape nobodies and sleek superstars. Everyone needs to prepare for the regular season.
Likewise we can use Lent to get ourselves into spiritual shape. We come together as a community of faith--from the weakest sinner to the prayer warrior. We examine ourselves and strengthen our souls through Bible study, prayer, and worship. We pray for the Holy Sprit’s guidance. We renew our commitment to Christ.
Lent commences on February 17, 2010 with Ash Wednesday. Interestingly enough, this year it’s the same day that pitchers and catchers begin reporting for Spring Training.
Are you ready to report?