Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Welcome to Lent!

Welcome to Lent!


A month after the festivities of Christmas are ended the church calendar turns our attention to the soon approaching Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.  Just as we’ve welcomed the new born babe, we’re faced with the reality that his saving work takes him from the manger of Bethlehem all the way to Golgotha in Jerusalem


The journey that Jesus took is a journey that the Church has been recalling and utilizing for many centuries as a means of discipleship, we know it as the Lent.  Early Christians had several variations of a pre-Easter fast or journey. In 325 at the Council of Nicea (a council would have similarities to a Free Methodist General Conference), a common understanding for a pre-Easter observance was agreed upon.[1]  Lent would be 40 days immediately preceding Easter.  As the church split east (Orthodox) from west (Catholics and Protestants) the 40 days have been counted differently.  Lent in the western tradition begins on Ash Wednesday – which is February 6th in 2008.  Holding to the idea that Sunday’s are remembrances of the resurrection, they are kept as days of feasting and not fasting.  In the eastern churches, Lent begins on a Monday and includes all Sundays.  The 40 days find their culmination on Holy Saturday.


The church recognized that 40 is significant in the Bible and is often used to described God’s work in his people.  In Genesis, Noah’s boat ride experienced rain for 40 days, Moses’ life is marked with lots of 40’s – he led the people of God in the desert for 40 years.  Jesus, immediately following his baptism was led into the wilderness for 40 days.  


The purpose for lent has been at least two fold. Lent was a time of preparation.  One group of people to be prepared were/are those who were/are about to be baptized.  About 350 A.D. Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem told those who were about to be baptized, “you have a long period of grace, forty days for repentance.”  By Augustine’s time, Lent had become a time of preparation for all Christians, baptized or not. . .” [2]  In this was the second aspect of Lent, it became a time when Christians who had committed serious sins, or who had separated themselves from the community of faith to make confession and receive reconciliation and forgiveness so that they might participate fully in the life of the Church.[3]


The action of lent has seldom been labeled as celebratory.  Following Jesus lead of fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, lent has most notably been marked by fasting.  Depending upon the brand of Christianity, the interpretation of fasting has varied.  In the Orthodox Church, the fast includes meat, milk, cheese and sweets.  In the Protestant tradition fasting has been for a meal, or has extended beyond food to include daily indulgences, like chocolate, coffee or some activity, that may take our eyes off of following Christ fully.  The intention behind fasting, Jesus spoke to this in his sermon on the mount, is to practice self-denial and self-examination, so that we may pray with a clear heart and head. 


Along with fasting, Lent has been marked by the action of self-examination and repenting of any known sin.  Soon after Christmas there will be news accounts of credit card bills arriving and the panic that it brings to many families.  In like fashion, we tend to be lax in making sure that our emotional accounts with people are clear and that we can sleep in peace.  Lent, provides an opportunity for reflection and admission so that the full glory of Jesus’ resurrection can radiate our lives and in our relationships. 


Lent also affords us at least two more actions that are pro-active in preparing for Easter.  First is reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.  Especially helpful is to read the gospels and see in Jesus the love God has for the world and the sacrifice he gave for us all.  Second is to take on an action of serving someone else and to do it unknown to them.  This is a way in which Jesus invited us to identify with Him.


I invite you, those who have never observed lent, and those of you who have, to consider anew what lessons God might have for you this coming season of Lent.  “The observance of Lent is an ancient feature of the Church’s life.  It enables us to, in an ordered way, to hear the great story of salvation, celebrate God’s mighty acts, and be led into a deeper knowledge and love of Christ.”[4]


Let us welcome Lent! and all the ways that lead us to Jesus, the babe in the manger, the savior on the Cross, the first and the last, the bright morning star!



[1] White, James F., Introduction to Christian Worship, Revised. Abingdon.  1990.  p.61.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The United Methodist Book of Worship.  The United Methodist Publishing House. 1998. p. 322

[4] Pastors and Church Leaders Manual.  Board of Bishops, FMCNA.  2006.  p.54.


Anonymous said...


You should definitley read "Great Lent; Journey to Pascha" by Alexander Schmemann (Or some other worthy publication by an Orthodox scholar) to gain a fuller understanding of the Eastern Orthodox meaning of Great Lent. That said, your comments on the Eastern Orthodox Church were grossly inadequate in their communication on the true meaning of Lent, what happens in preparation for Lent, during Lent and the importance of this spiritual journey.

Duke said...

Anonymous - You're right, I should read Schmemann. He was a profound influence on a great friend of mine. You're also right that my writing of Orthodoxy is inadequate.