As you go about your day today, you may see people with small black crosses on their foreheads. The crosses are drawn in ash and signal the beginning of the Lent season, which begins today, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is traditionally observed by Catholics but is also observed by some other denominations as well. There are many denominations that do not observe Ash Wednesday but do take part in the Lent season. Perhaps you have heard it talked about in your church or on social media. So, what is Lent? Should all Christians observe it? What is the purpose of it? Let's explore each of these questions together.
What is Lent?
Lent is a period of forty days (excluding Sundays). Depending on the year, it can begin in February or March, but it always ends on Easter. It was instituted as a reminder to repent of sin and meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Easter. In the same way advent prepares us to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas by helping us take time to think about the significance of that event before the day comes, Lent prepares us to honor the sacrifice and death of Jesus. Lent specifically reminds us that we are sinners who are in need of Jesus's sacrifice. Jesus died for us.
Over time some groups of people began to think Lent was more about doing and saying the right things than about the attitude of the heart. They decided there were right ways to celebrate it and wrong ways to celebrate it. And if you did it the wrong way, you were looked down on. This has led to much confusion over how and why one should partake in Lent.
What is the purpose of Lent?
At its core, the heart of Lent is to focus on our need for Jesus. There is no right and wrong way to observe it. Some choose to take part in Ash Wednesday. The ashen cross on their forehead is a reminder of people in the Bible who repented of their sin while sitting in piles of dust and ash that represented their frailty and weakness. Some choose to observe Lent by giving up or fasting from something. Their restraint from a certain activity or food is a constant reminder that their life is not about consuming pleasures, but worshiping their Savior.
The goal of Lent is to intentionally focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Easter so that we can better recognize the significance of what He has done for us. I know in the past I have spent more time focusing on preparing Easter baskets and planning the Easter menu than on getting my heart ready to celebrate my Lord and Savior. Lent helps us focus on what's most important.
Should all Christians celebrate lent?
Lent is never mentioned in the Bible and is not a season that the Bible commands us to celebrate. The decision to observe Lent can be made individually. There are countless ways to center your thoughts on Jesus during Lent. You can celebrate Lent through fasting, prayer, meditation, Bible study, reflection, or worship. The benefits to taking part in Lent are many and personally, I have found that observing it has been a delight and not a burden. It is a short season that sets my heart right as Easter approaches.
In his article, "Join the 40-Day Feast: How to Prepare Ahead for Easter," Scott Hubbard so beautifully puts it like this:
"If we want to make the most of this annual opportunity, we'll do more than just give something up. We'll silence ourselves before the Sovereign who became a servant.
We'll fasten our eyes upon him as he teaches and heals and smiles and weeps – the only upright man in a world of cracked and curved impostors. We'll stand in awe as we hear him plead in Gethsemane. We'll marvel as he moves from the garden to the cross, silent as a sheep going to the slaughter. We'll adore him as he lets the nails pierced his sinless skin until it is finished.
And then, we'll put our ears to the ground and listen for the tremors of his rising. If we do, we might just find ourselves erupting with a deeper joy as we join the universal shout: 'He is risen!'"
Make Lent Meaningful
So my encouragement to you is to make the next 40 days leading up to Easter meaningful. Maybe you want to commit to reading your Bible everyday. We 'd love to have you join us in our Lent Bible reading plan if this is you. Maybe you want to take time to study Jesus's life and death more than you ever have before. Our Lent Bible study, 40 Days with Jesus, would be perfect if this is you.
Don't let this season pass you by. Don't let Easter become something that is only semi-meaningful. Jesus gave His precious life and blood for you. How can you use the days leading up to Easter to wholeheartedly embrace this wonderful gift?