“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endure the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
While homeschooling my daughters one year, I had the opportunity to learn more about Lent. What I learned enriched my walk with God and I would like to share it.
The first day of Lent this year is Wednesday, February 22nd - Ash Wednesday. Lent originally meant spring - new life in nature. But for Christians it is a time of spiritual renewal as well. The date for Lent is determined by the date for Easter. Easter is always the first Sunday after the full moon that comes on or after March 21st. This year it falls on April 8th.
Originally Lent was 40 hours - the time Jesus was in the tomb. In the 200's it became 6 days called Holy Week. The 6 days became 36, being a tithe or 10th of the year, and then in the 700's under Charlemagne it became 40 days including Ash Wednesday. When we count the 40 days in Lent, we don’t count the Sundays of each week - only weekdays. One article I read also mentioned that Lent owes some of its spirit to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for ministry. During Jesus’ time in the desert He left behind all others but the Holy Spirit and the Father. He experienced deprivation and temptation, but the Father and Holy Spirit sustained him.
Ash Wednesday is called that for several reasons. People put ashes on their foreheads in the form of a cross to show they belong to Jesus and are sealed in Him. Ashes are used because in Bible times they were a sign of sorrow and repentance.
Lent is a time of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, just as Advent prepares us for Christmas. Lent can be a time of looking at ourselves, thinking about our need for God and sometimes giving up something for a while as a sacrifice to God. We “deprive” ourselves through a “desert” experience of some sort. Some people fast or give up other things besides food - perhaps television or computer games. Lent is also a time for special prayer as we examine ourselves and meditate on what the Lord has done for us. The traditional symbol for Lenten prayer is the pretzel. In the 400's Christians made dough in the shape of two crossed arms to remind them to pray. They were called “Little Arms” or bracellae - later brezel or pretzel. They were eaten only during Lent.
Lent should not be a time of gloominess. It should be a time of self-reflection, yes, but also a time of joyfulness for what Jesus did for us. And if we give anything up, the purpose is to either strip away things that clutter our lives and keep us from a close relationship with God or remind us of the sacrifices He endured for us. For those of us with chronic pain and illness, the thought of intentionally giving up something may be difficult because of all we already give up out of necessity. Rather than giving something up I sometimes add something – such as praying daily for a particular cause or person or reading a book on Christ or other spiritual disciplines. I may also give up something different each week rather than one thing for the entire 40 days, which makes things easier to manage.
Through prayer, penitence, and preparing, Lent is a time of spiritual growth and renewal. It reminds us that Jesus has already been where we are and it reminds us of His suffering. But it especially reminds us of His love. Lent can be a very meaningful time. The Lord knows our pain and sufferings and understands that we may not be able to endure yet another discomfort or sacrifice. Yet whatever God leads us to do or not do during this season, we can ponder God’s great love and sacrifice for us, and perhaps be strengthened in endurance of own suffering, knowing these trials are conforming us more into the image of Christ Himself.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we enter this season of Lent, may I remember that You understand the meaning of sacrifice, for You made the greatest one in dying for me. Draw me closer to You during this time, and may any sacrifice I make deepen my love and commitment to You. Amen.