Growing up Southern Baptist, I didn’t observe Lent. In fact, I was a little suspicious of the whole Ash Wednesday/Lent thing because it was one of those “Catholic” “rituals” (never mind that several other branches of Christianity observe the church calendar and that Baptists and other Evangelicals have their own set of rituals). I went to college at LSU and, while I didn’t observe Lent, I learned to celebrate Mardi Gras with everyone else!
I’ve been reading and learning more about the church year and I think Evangelicals may be missing out by not observing Lent. Certainly, Easter is the big holiday (“holy day”) for all Christians. Good Friday through Easter memorializes Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – the events central to our faith.
But, Lent helps us to observe the reason for these events. Why did Jesus need to die? Because of my sin. During the season of Lent, we are reminded of the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice.
From early in church history, Lent was often a season for new converts to become instructed in the church and to be prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday. What a great symbol – to be baptized on Easter!
Lent is also characterized by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. I often heard about “giving up something for Lent” when I was growing up. What I didn’t hear was that fasting in some way (“giving something up”) was to be accompanied by the spiritual discipline of prayer. The point is not that we are to be miserable for the few weeks before Easter, but that we are to use this time to develop our relationship with Jesus through the disciplines of fasting (from food or other things) and prayer as well as giving.
The more I learn about observing the church year, the more I like it. I like knowing that I’m participating with over a billion other people across the globe in focusing on my need for a savior over these next several weeks which then culminates in the celebration of Holy Week when we remember the sacrifice and triumph of our savior and the grace he offers to pay for our sin.
I haven’t really thought about how I’ll participate in Lent this year. I may just continue with the daily office readings that I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year. But I know I’ll spend more time in these next 40 days preparing my heart for Easter – not morosely, but in anticipation.
Do you follow the church calendar? What does Lent mean to you?