It’s coming! It’s really coming once again!
I don’t actually mean Jubilee (though I’m so excited for Friday!). I mean Lent.
For Western Christians, the Lenten season begins this Wednesday – Ash Wednesday. (Our Eastern Orthodox brethren begin celebrating the Great Lent today, though this year we celebrate Easter – Pascha for them – on the same day.)
I could describe Lent for you, but Wikipedia does a pretty good job:
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent was also traditionally the term used to describe the period leading up to Christmas before the term of advent was officially recognized.
Conventionally it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
As Wikipedia goes on to point out, quite a few Protestant denominations do not formally practice the observance of the church calendar, and with that, they don’t observe Lent. (My own Presbyterian denomination, I’m told, traditionally does not even formally observe Easter or Christmas, though I don’t know of many churches over the broader Presbyterian world which don’t do so.)
But over the past few years, I’ve observed that more and more Christians of all stripes are recognizing the value of the church calendar and the differences between feast days and fast seasons. Observing a fast of some kind is not a means to salvation. But it can be a means to holiness, a discipline that helps us to focus on the glory of Christ’s resurrection.
Christians traditionally observe a fast during Lent. (The concept is the same as that fast during Advent.) I was contemplating – still am contemplating – what I’ll choose to fast from during this Lenten season. I’m on a restricted diet right now for some minor health reasons, which has already removed most of the things I enjoy eating from my diet. (Yay?) Some people give up Facebook or other favorite social networking tools, but I’m somewhat tied to them for work. So I’m being forced to think outside the box a bit.
Some people have told me that they often add a habit during Lent instead of removing one. While I admire the good intentions behind their effort, I think this kind of practice misses the point a little. The idea behind the Lenten fast is to remove something good that nonetheless can Christ’s place in our life as the true source of comfort and joy. We add it back on celebratory days (the Sabbath, and then Easter), with the goal of finding comfort in Christ while being able to put his blessings in the proper place in our lives.
Adding a practice during Lent is good. But if we take up a practice in place of giving up something good, do we then give up the practice when Easter comes?
Of course, since Lent is generally considered to be an optional practice for spiritual development, then it’s really between the individual believer and God whether to practice Lent, and how. But I’d encourage you to keep the concept behind Lent in mind as you contemplate whether God is showing you something in your life that is taking His place.
Happy Lent. And I’ll see you in Pittsburgh.