The Season of Lent
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating of God’s holy Word.” (BCP – p. 265)
The forty days of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, reflect Israel’s forty years’ wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land and Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness between his baptism and the commencement of his public ministry.
This ancient holy season of self-denial and repentance is rooted in the early church’s practice of instructing new adherents in the faith during a period of fasting, before their baptism on Easter morning. The whole church came to adopt the practice of fasting during Lent as preparation for the festival of Easter.
The earliest known recommendation that Christians should fast for forty days before Easter comes from a letter written in 330 CE by St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt. By the Middle Ages, fasting was enforced throughout Europe, and innkeepers faced threats of imprisonment if they served meat during the final weeks before Easter.
The Reformers of the sixteenth century deemphasized the season, but in recent years, the church has renewed the invitation to the observance of a good and holy Lent. Fasting in identification with the sufferings of Jesus becomes an important discipline for spiritual growth while waiting and yearning for Easter life.
The liturgical color for the season of Lent is purple and the liturgy is simplified which characterizes waiting and yearning in the experiences of repentance, suffering, death, relinquishment, brokenness, alienation, abandonment, loneliness, isolation and conflict.
Lent is a season in which we are invited to ponder our relationship with God and with his Son, Jesus Christ. It is the time of year when we recall that the gift of Jesus Christ given to us at Christmas becomes the gift that is sacrificed before God so that we can have eternal life in the presence of God Almighty.
Spiritual questions we might ask during Lent include: Do I feel like I am in a wilderness? Am I facing temptation and need help to resist? What do I need to allow to die in me in order to be closer to God?
The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things (bad habits) and/or by taking on others (good things or spiritual disciplines). Both can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation.
Note that the season of Lent is forty days plus the six Sundays. This is because Sundays are celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection and are always an appropriate day to lessen the restrictions of Lent. So, if you have, for example, given up chocolate for Lent, you could indulge in a weekly candy bar on Sunday!