Though Lent is primarily observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches, it’s a season that all Christians can use to prepare their hearts for Easter. The season of Lent is rich with history and tradition. Here are some key points and some further reading that will help you live the season to its fullest.
Three Customs of Lent: Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving
While fasting is one of its most popular characteristics, Lent is traditionally thought to have three equal customs or themes: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. In addition to giving up your favorite dessert, Lent also calls us to deepen our prayer life and give our time, talents, and monetary goods to those that are less fortunate.
In his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh… we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”
Bonhoeffer reminds us that denying ourselves actually empowers us to better serve God. With this mentality in mind, a Christian can consider using Lent as a time of fasting from anything that “satisfies the flesh.” For a great list of ideas of what to give up for Lent, click here.
The Significance of 40 Days
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on evening of Holy Thursday, or the Thursday before Easter. Lent lasts for 40 days to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, before beginning his public ministry. In addition to the Lord’s time in the desert, the timeframe of 40 days is found repeatedly throughout the Bible, including, Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18), Elijah’s 40 days of walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8), the 40 days of rain that God sent during the flood of Noah (Genesis 7:4), the 40 days that the Hebrew people wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised land (Numbers 13:33), and the 40-day warning that Jonah gave to the city of Ninevah to repent or their city would be destroyed.
While Lent does last for 40 days, there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. This is so that Christians are not required to fast on the Sundays during Lent, since Sunday is always a day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
Abstaining From Meat on Fridays
Not all Christian denominations observe abstaining from meat on Fridays, but fish fries and restaurant fish specials on Fridays in Lent have probably made you quite aware of the tradition. Mark Hart, VP of Life Teen International, wrote a beautiful description of why he chooses to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent:
“When I go through the incredibly minor act of abstaining from meat on Fridays, it is just one tiny act of self-sacrifice that points me back to that awful but Good Friday. That was the Friday when God loved me so much that He gave up His flesh in the most selfless act in history.”
For more on Lent and how it can help you experience Christ’s resurrection this Easter, check out these Lenten Resources. Also, be sure to watch the inspirational movie, “Ashes to Glory: An Easter Devotional” which will take you on a devotional journey from the remembrance of Ash Wednesday to the celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Each day contains a brief devotion that reflects on a song, poem, tradition, Scripture, character of the Passion story, or work of art that enhances the meaning of the season.