What Is Lent?

A landscape that whos the majesty of Jesus creation on earth

What is Lent?   

Lent is a forty day period of fasting, prayer, and meditation that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. You may be thinking that that it seems like that would be longer than forty days, and that’s because Christians traditionally have not fasted on Sundays, so that forty period begins on a Wednesday to adjust for not fasting on Sundays throughout the season of Lent. 

The word ‘Lent’ comes from an Old English word lencten which means ‘spring season’ and may have originally referred to the lengthening of days that happens in the spring. 

While the Bible does not talk about Lent or prescribe it as a practice, there are biblical precedents for fasting for periods of forty days, such as when Moses was on the mountain with God in Exodus 34:28, or when Jesus was in the wilderness facing temptation in Matthew 4:1-3.  

 There’s good documentation to suggest that early Christians had a period of fasting, or abstaining from food, before Easter. By the 300s, Lent was an established period of forty day fasting advocated for by people like Athanasius and Augustine – long before the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches of the church split. Fasting for forty days before Easter was common practice for Christians around the world in the first centuries of Christian life, it was not just a practice for Roman Catholics (and depending on who you ask, Lent may be older than the Roman Catholic church as we know it!). 

Why would we spend forty days preparing for Easter?  

For Christians, Easter is the most significant day on the calendar. We believe that Easter is the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and in doing so, made a way for us to have life with God forever. 

Lent is a period of preparing our hearts for the goodness that comes on Easter. We begin Lent on Ash Wednesday. Some Christians impose ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads, not because they believe there’s anything magical about the ashes, but because it’s a sign that we recognize the gravity of our own sinfulness, or our tendency to get our loves out of order, like when we love status or money or security more than we love other people, or when we love anything more than we love God. Those who have ashes imposed on their foreheads also remember that ultimately, we are made from dust, and to dust we will return – one day we will all die. 

Then, throughout Lent, it is common for Christians to abstain or fast from something in their lives. The purpose of this is to turn the discomfort we feel from the lack of something in our lives into a reminder to pay attention to God and what God is doing in our lives, to spend more time in prayer or in reading Scripture. 

All of this helps prepare our hearts and minds for the pain that is coming on Good Friday, when we will remember Jesus’ death and the great pain and suffering he endured on our behalf, and then the tremendous celebration of Easter, when we will remember that through Jesus, death has been defeated and Jesus has made a way for all of us to be resurrected! 

If you’re looking for a place to celebrate Easter and learn about what it means to follow Jesus, we’d love for you to join us at First Baptist Church Arlington!  

Luke Stehr

Luke Stehr

Christ-follower. Husband. Dad. Community Engagement Coordinator.

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