There is no season of the year that is more divisive than Lent, the 40-day season of preparation and fasting before Easter. There was a time where the word could not be uttered in Protestant Evangelical churches, and many churches remain closed to the topic. This is unfortunate!
Lent was not an invention of the Roman Catholic church designed to help people trim their wastlines by avoiding Coke and chocolate while eating fish. Lent is much more important, much more difficult when practiced correctly, and much older. We are all responsible for Lent, and there was a time when the entire Church saw the the benefit of a season of preparation.
To understand Lent, we must understand the discipleship practices of the Early Church.
To become a part of the Early Church, confession or conversion alone was not enough. How could one truly confess or convert to something which they did not understand? Since every convert came out of a thoroughly pagan background—meaning they had no concept of Christ or faith— the Early Church had to find a way to build believers. Their solution was an intense system of training akin to catechism.
This multi-month (and eventually multi-year) training ended with the baptism of the convert, their first communion, and full acceptance into the church community. Each time a baptism and first communion occurred, it was cause for an incredible celebration. It didn’t take long for the church realize that Easter was the best opportunity to celebrate a new Christian’s transition from death to life.The Early Church baptized new Christians at sunrise on Easter Sunday. Click To Tweet
The baptism was a capstone to 40 days of intense fasting and preparation by the candidates for baptism, mirroring Christ’s own 40 days of fasting and preparation before his ministry began. For the convert, this season was intended to allow time for reflection and repentance before their own ministry would begin post-baptism.
So effective was the yearly ritual that the entire church began joining the candidates for the 40 days of reflection, repentance, and preparation. It became an opportunity to center oneself before Easter and an annual reminder of their own baptism.
It was powerful, and the fact that the practice of Lent remains after nearly two millennia is a testament to its power and ongoing usefulness.
The major problem with Lent as a modern practice is that it has all but lost its spiritual underpinnings. It has become fasting without focus. The Early Church didn’t simply set something aside (like chocolate) for Lent, they took something on (like daily repentance and prayer) during the 40 days.
Lent has a lot of life left in it, if we will let it return to its roots.
We cannot just take something off for Lent, we must put something on… something like deep repentance, increased prayer, intense reflection, or another spiritual practice.The point of Lent is to prepare. How will you? Click To Tweet
PRACTICE: Lent is less than 3 weeks away, jot down a quick list of things you might put off and take on for 40 days.