Why Bother With Lent? - Part Two
- Elliot Grudem, Bruce Benedict
- Feb 17, 2010
- Series: Lent
The Lenten Season often provides Christ’s followers with more confusion than clarity. However, there can be some benefit to thinking about the themes of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in preparation for Easter Sunday.
Over the next three days, we will consider the Lenten Season and ways that incorporating some traditional Lenten practices can help you grow in your faith.
You can read Part One by clicking here.
Lent is one of the liturgical seasons of the church calendar that precedes Easter. The name of this season originates from the Anglo-Saxon lencten meaning "spring". The origins of Lent are controversial. Traditionally it is understood as an intense season of preparation for “Catechumens” (converts under training) who were preparing to be baptized on Easter.
The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) officially referred to Lent as “forty days” and made it immediately precede Easter. Sundays are not counted as part of Lent, since Sundays are reserved for celebration. The Season of Lent now officially begins with Ash Wednesday because of the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of Christians. This practice is dated back at least from the late-eleventh century.
Lent carries in its tide a number of biblical themes, stories, and structures.
Again, Lent was a season that the early church used to prepare catechumens—new converts that wished to join the church through baptism, which was typically accomplished at Easter. The catechumens were encouraged during the 40 days to engage in regular times of repentance and confession and to seek reconciliation with those whom they had sinned, and been sinned against—the very spiritual disciplines that every Christian should engage in daily. (Matt. 5:24, 2 Cor. 5:18)
Now, you don’t need a special season to do this. But there also is a benefit in setting aside a specific time to focus on these things. Throughout the history of the church, many believers have benefitted from using the Lenten Season to do just that.
The Season of Lent is part of a larger church calendar that includes Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Ordinary time. These are celebrations that have been developed over a long period of time originally in the Catholic Church and have flowed into practice in other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian). The practices connected to each season mostly find their roots in observing the life of Jesus as it is portrayed in the Gospels. Some of the practices and celebrations may also be connected to ancient pagan celebrations that Christian re-appropriated over time.
Historically, the reformed traditional has largely discarded the celebration of a complete church calendar because it binds the conscience to follow rules and rituals from man. Nowhere is the church calendar commanded in scripture. Calvin and others thought it permissible to recognize the chief evangelical feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost but felt that the focus should always be on the proclamation of the whole Gospel for the people of God each Sunday.
Today, you will find that many churches are beginning to use bits and pieces of this church calendar as a guide to meditating on certain themes through out the year. The church calendar can be helpful in giving us a guide in proclaiming the whole counsel of God. Every Sunday should be a mini-narrative of the whole Gospel story. Yet some churches in the reformed tradition tend to focus on the cross more than the empty tomb, Jesus and God to the neglect of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of justification and not sanctification, adoption, or glorification. The church calendar, when used with great wisdom, can be a helpful tool to observe the ancient practice of lectio continua—preaching through both the easy and difficult parts of a book of scripture.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday (February 17 in 2010).
The use of ashes in the observance of Ash Wednesday, to start a season of repentance and faith, is rooted in the ancient biblical practice of severe repentance and contrition. You can read about it in Daniel (9:3) or concerning the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6).
Ash Wednesday provides an opportunity to remember our mortality and to ask God to “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). It is also a time to remember Jesus’ promise in light of our mortality: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
We can, as Jesus encouraged Martha to, then reflect on that promise and answer ourselves, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). If we do believe it, as we consider our weakness and mortality and remember our salvation and the promises it holds, our heart should be overwhelmed with love for Jesus that helps us grow in our distaste for sin.