Lent is a Spiritual Discipline that is often viewed as an empty religious practice- even by Christians. The roots of Lent go faaaar back. It is believed it started somewhere around A.D. 203. There is some evidence that the 40 day period was a bit of a mistake - that the writings were translated improperly from Greek into Latin, and it was first written that followers of Christ should observe a 40 hour fast leading up to the anniversary of the Resurrection, and it was a misinterpretation of a punctuation mark that caused 40 hours to look like 40- 24 hour days.
Within a hundred and fifty years it became widely recognized throughout Christianity to observe a 40 day fast. The parameters of the fast were worked out over the years to essentially observe a vegan diet - no animal flesh or products derived from animals. No milk, cheese, eggs or butter. Ash Wednesday was formed to be the beginning of the fast. People were expected to place ashes on their foreheads to signify they are in mourning (Remembering the loss of Jesus Christ) which is a biblical practice. The day before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday as it is also sometimes called. Shrove Tuesday is widely known as the day we eat pancakes. (Yum!!) The purpose of eating pancakes was to use up all the "rich foods" (eggs, milk and butter) before the fast begins the next day.
Now, if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you will find it is 47 days total. The purpose is to fast Monday through Saturday, and then to feast on Sunday. Seeing as the Sabbath is the day we celebrate Jesus Christ each week, it only makes sense to not be in a time of grieving or penance on that day.
Penance. That brings me to why a lot of Christians disagree with Lent. Penance is defined as "Voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong" You can see why people might get upset at that. Penance is a religious exercise. Before Jesus Christ came and died for our sins believers (Jewish people) were expected to do something to be able to receive forgiveness. Not only to repent (To turn from sin- change one's ways and steer one's life in the opposite direction of sin.) but to perform an act of sacrifice- such a sacrificing and offering an animal, fasting from food, or abstinence. There was a very detailed code for individuals to make various sin sacrifices and offerings in order to reconcile their relationship with God. In a corporate setting, repentance happened on the Day of Atonement. A priest was to enter the Holy of Holies - a place where God's presence resided. The priest would offer a sacrifice in the form of blood from a chosen goat, first sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant (The place where God's Spirit resided) for his own sins, and then sprinkled once again to atone for the sins of all humanity.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? The good news is that Jesus was our final and perfect sacrificial lamb. All our sins (past, present, future) were forgiven in one act of love. The moment He died the veil that surrounded the Holy of Holies (which is believed to be 60 feet high and 4 inches thick) was torn - releasing God's Spirit to no longer reside in one place, but instead to reside in each of us. The Bible tells us that we are now the Temple. Hallelujah! Good bye religious exercises, and Hello relationship. Having the Holy Spirit in us is a complete game changer.
Back to Lent....
Just as the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting has been redeemed from an original place of penance, I believe Lent has also been redeemed. To think of Lent only as a time of penance is to do it an injustice. In my research on Lent I found that the church uses the Greek word Metanoia in relation to Lent.
"Metanoia connotes a change of mind and heart, altering one's mind-set toward whole new ways of thinking and acting. This involves taking a look at where we are and trying to see where we ought to be. It involves testing our values and discerning how they stack up against the values that Jesus offers his followers." - Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk
As with most things when it comes to our walk with Jesus, Lent is all about intentionality. Intentionally remembering His sacrifice and what that means for us. Intentionally testing and evaluating our lives to see if we are reflecting the life of Jesus.
In my next post I will talk about what I have given up for Lent and what I believe Jesus has been telling me through this sacrifice.
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