Two of the most precious days in the year for Christians are Christmas and Easter. And both days are preceded by an extended season meant to prepare us for them. For Christmas, the season of preparation is Advent, a season in which our anticipation builds for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. For Easter, the season of preparation is Lent.
Lent is a 40-day season of prayer of fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. (That’s actually 46 days, but the six Sundays during Lent aren’t counted toward this number since Sundays are considered feast days.) These 40 days commemorate many occasions in Scripture, such as the 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness.
Robert Webber writes that “Lent is the time to identify with the death of Christ, a death in which we participate through our conversion and baptism.” And because of this, “it is also the time to identify a power working against us and crucify it with Christ and bury it in the tomb, never to be raised again.”
Think of Lent like an intensive spiritual check-up, a time to examine ourselves. Laurence Stookey writes that Lent has a double-focus: “The Forty Days are [first] a time for a probing consideration of our human condition, including sin and its deadly consequences for both individuals and society, and [second] a time for an equally intense consideration of the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ and their implications for practical living. Both…determine the shape of the season as a whole.”
In other words, Lent is a season devoted to doing what Paul tells us to do in Ephesians 4:22-24 when he tells us to “put off your old self” and to “be renewed” and “put on the new self”. Negatively, it’s a time to consider what is hindering us in our walk with Jesus and put it to death. Positively, it’s a time to take up things that will help us follow him better.
This is what makes fasting so appropriate for this season. Maybe you’ve heard of someone “giving something up” for Lent before. For some it’s food. Others choose to abstain from something else. Whatever it is, simply denying yourself something isn’t the end goal. The goal is that by denying yourself something, you create space in your life to examine yourself and take an inventory of your spiritual life. In this way, fasting is meant to produce healthy effects in our walk with Christ that last far beyond those 40 days.
Robert Webber captures the benefits of this season well: “Unfortunately some Christians live as though the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened. Our lives become absorbed in the day-to-day experiences of life. We focus on name-brand clothing, the color of our houses, the size of our bank account, the year and make of our automobile, the prestige in which others hold us, and the symbols of our own power. We too easily forget our Maker and Redeemer, replacing God with things and ambition. Lent is the season that does something about this situation. It calls us back to God, back to basics, back to the spiritual realities of life. It calls on us to put to death the sin and the indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our fellow persons. And it beckons us to enter once again into the joy of the Lord – the joy of a new life born out a death to the old life.”
How can you use this season to grow in your walk with Jesus?
Additional reading and resources for individuals and families: