Over the centuries, the Christian calendar has been used by both Protestants and Catholics as helpful and instructive for worship preparation and instruction in the Christian faith. (see HERE for an article on the Christian calendar). In considering how the Christian calendar has served us well, as we have benefited spiritually both in preparing for Advent and Holy Week each year, Lent also provides us with another opportunity to observe the glory of God in the work of Christ while examining our sin and need for God.
What is Lent?
Lent is the 40 days (46, actually) preceding Resurrection Sunday in which the church prepares to commemorate the passion, death, and burial of Christ, and celebrate his resurrection. Lent was established during the First Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) for Christians preparing for baptism (most likely), but by the seventh century, the practice had moved toward the whole church’s preparation for Resurrection Sunday. Coinciding with the 40 Days that Christ spent in the Wilderness, Lent is a season for Christians to dedicate greater attention toward the disciplines of prayer and fasting; with focuses on confession of sin, penitence (repentance), and an intentional expression of faith in Christ and celebration of his victory over death and sin. For some, Lent also includes abstaining from certain foods or pleasures for the purpose of recognizing their weakness and need for Christ.
When Does It Begin?
Each year, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (46 days before Resurrection Day). Ash Wednesday is named for the custom of lightly rubbing ashes on the forehead of a person as a public sign of his/her need to repent of sin and trust in Christ. It is a reminder that man came from dust, and will return to the dust (Gen 3:19). This day can serve as an intentional time for a Christian to repent and believe again in the gospel. In 2021, Ash Wednesday will be held on February 17, commencing the Lenten season (which culminates on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week).
Why Should We Participate?
For members of a local church, it is always necessary to deal with sin in our hearts (we should be confessing and repenting daily). During Lent, we encourage you to further appeal to the Spirit to reveal personal sins, repent of those sins, and glory in Christ’s death and resurrection. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and daily devotions are intended to be means of grace in the life of the church. Removing certain distractions from us so that we can refocus on the Risen Lord can uniquely serve us and those in our congregation, and God is glorified when his people recognize sin and turn to him.
How Should We Guard Ourselves?
Remember we, ourselves, cannot overcome sin. Nor does participating in Lent for tradition sake have any power over sin or merit before God. This is not to be taken as an opportunity to boast in what we are forgoing, but rather a privilege to boast in what Christ has done for the church despite our sin. Concentrated seasons of disciplines can promote within us self-righteousness rather than humility and the praise of God– to which they are intended. May we look to Christ, that the peace of God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).