The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and occupies the forty days (not counting Sundays) up to Easter. Lent is traditionally observed as a season of spiritual growth through penitence and fasting. This statement raises questions, to which we respond:
1. What does “Lent: mean? It is an old English word for the season of spring, the time when the days “lengthen.”
2. Why forty days? Forty days (or years) is traditional in the Bible for a period of trial or purification. Noah’s flood lasted forty days, the Israelites fleeing Egypt wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Jesus was in the desert for forty days, etc.
3. What is “penitence”? Penitence means bitter regret for misdeeds or sins and the resolve to do better.
4. What is “fasting”? Fasting is a discipline that involves abstinence from certain foods or activities. The word is related to our expression to hold “fast” or firmly to something.
5. Why are Sundays not included in the forty days of Lent? Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter (Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday), so Sundays are excluded from the penitential season.
6. Why does Easter, and therefore the preceding season of Lent, move around from year to year? The original Easter (when Jesus rose from the dead) occurred at the Jewish season of Passover, which was (and still is) a spring festival timed by the first new moon after the spring equinox. The early Christian church maintained this method of timing for Easter.
7. How will penitence and fasting promote spiritual growth? Every person is separated from God and subject to sin, evil, and death. There is only one solution for this problem: Jesus, who is God himself but became human to save us and bring us back to God through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The early Christians, who witnessed these things, put it very simply: if you want to be saved, you must repent (be penitent) and believe.
So here is the deal in a nutshell. Easter is on April 1 this year. If you want to fully experience the wonder of salvation from sin, evil, and death, take time in the season of Lent to ponder your distance from God, regret your sins and resolve to do better, and develop your hunger for reconciliation with God. Fasting can be a daily reminder. How can you fast? Some people give up meat, or chocolate, or coffee, or alcohol. Others give up television, or surfing the internet, or tweeting. Think about replacing what you have given up with a positive activity. Read a book of the Bible during Lent. Attend our weekly soup suppers at St. Barnabas.
This year, start your trip back to God the way the early Church recommended: repent and believe!