by Pastor Denise Snyder
The season of Lent starts Wednesday, March 6. Lent is not a biblical tradition, but it is observed as a way to prepare for and remember Easter — when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead three days later.
For Lent this year, we plan to read through the book of Mark together as a congregation. Pick up a bookmark with the reading plan on it, or find it online. (We are also offering some suggestions for ways to fast on Fridays during Lent. Look for those in the bulletin and on Facebook.)
Lent is not a tradition that Christians are required to observe, but it is an interesting season that can be a good time for remembering, reflecting and pondering the seriousness of our sin.
Because the date of Easter changes every year, it can tend to creep up on us. We’re going about our daily lives, and suddenly we come upon a busy week filled with Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Observing the season of Lent can allow you to stop and prepare for Easter in ways that you maybe haven’t before.
But what exactly is Lent?
Lent is a season that begins on Ash Wednesday and spans the 46 days until Easter Sunday. Lent is usually talked about as 40 days because the Sundays during Lent don’t count as part of the fasting season. Lent lasts for 40 days to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent being tempted in the wilderness.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services where people receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads as a symbol of mourning over sin. (Job repents in dust and ashes in Job 42.) The ash is also a reminder that we are simply flesh and bones — to dust we shall return. There is nothing in us — absolutely nothing — that is able to resist or defeat death. It is only through Jesus — whose victory over sin and death is great cause for celebration — that we are able to have eternal life. He is the only one powerful enough to take away death’s sting!
For churches that observe the Lenten season, their services often change a bit as well. The mood becomes a bit more somber during the 40 days of Lent as people remember that the reason Jesus came into the world was to die for our sins. Often worship songs will be a bit more solemn. In churches that recite prayers together, the word “Alleluia” is omitted during Lent.
Throughout the season of Lent, people often fast or give something up. Some people fast from meat on Fridays and a lot of people give up something else during the entire Lenten season — certain foods, alcohol, television, social media, etc. People also sometimes add something in — extra Bible reading or prayer time, for example.
The point of fasting during Lent is really to take time to remember that Jesus gave up everything in order to become a man and sacrifice Himself for us. It allows us to, in a very small way, feel those cravings and longings and remember the sacrifice of Jesus.
Lent ends on Easter Sunday. For those who have given something up during the Easter season, the fast is finished because He is risen! Our debt has been paid! For churches who observe Lent together, the music on Easter Sunday is joyful and hopeful and filled with rejoicing! Those churches who have abstained from “alleluia” during Lent now shout them out over and over, rejoicing in the King who defeated sin and death — Alleluia!!
Lent is not something Christians are bound to observe. But over and over again, the God of the Bible tells His people to remember. To write His words on our hearts, to celebrate feasts to commemorate what He has done, to fast and repent from our sin. Lent can be a great time to sacrifice, to become aware of the reality of sin, and to anticipate with longing the death and resurrection of Jesus that we get to celebrate together at Easter.
Have you observed Lent before?
Do you plan to observe it this year?
What can be the benefit of observing Lent?