“What in the world is Lent and where on earth did it come from?”
That was what I asked the first time I heard the word Lent as a new Christian. And through the years, I noticed that a lot of Christians aren’t sure about its meaning and history. Is it really something worth considering and making a part of our life?
The answer is yes. Lent is not only a part of Christian history and practice, but it is a productive form of worship during this special time of year leading up to Easter.
The word "lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means "spring," and lenctentid, which means "spring time." It was even used as the name of the month of March. It’s for that reason it was given to that period of the liturgical/worship or church year which leads up to Easter since it normally occurs during the month of March. It starts right after Ash Wednesday, lasting roughly 46 days (40 days if you exclude Sundays) before Easter.
It’s a time of introspection where Christians are encouraged to fast, pray, and meditate upon their faith in Christ while simplifying their lives as Christians.
As a practice, it’s not new. In fact, around 180 AD, Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Apostle, wrote that the earliest churches in the 1st Century regularly practiced a time of fasting and prayer leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It was only the manner and length of time dedicated to this period of worship which varied through the years. By the end of the 4th century the church adopted the length of 40 days in keeping with Jesus' fast of 40 days in the wilderness.
So what is it that Christians hope to accomplish during this time of the church year?
It’s a way of setting aside some of our everyday practices in order to focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When doing this, we come to appreciate God more fully.
I think of it like my backyard in the fall. My house is surrounded by trees that shed their leaves in autumn covering everything behind my house. Each year I take my rake (this year, my spiffy new leaf blower) and remove the leaves. Suddenly, I recognize the details of my yard again: the outdoor table and chairs, the stone patio, the plants, vines and bushes. During Lent, we remove certain foods as we fast, set aside certain practices and realign our reading, entertainment and conversations in order to reveal more of Christ and His work of grace and love for us. The goal is to see again the beauty and majesty of Christ in our lives which may have been obscured by our everyday practices, returning to our first love.
Give it a try and you may see parts of your faith that you haven’t seen in a long time.