What is Lent? No one has told you? Or is it something you think only Roman Catholics do? Did you know that Anglicans ; Lutherans ; Methodists and even some Presbyterians celebrate Lent as well.
No, I am not going back to Roman Catholicism, nor encouraging anyone to do so. No, I do not believe works contribute anything to your salvation. I am Protestant and I love my Roman Catholic friends even though I do not believe in many things they believe.
Why are we such snots about things such as tradition? What is the deal? What are we afraid of being normal Christians?
I think it is fear of being extra-biblical or legalistic perhaps, but I have to confess there is way too much ignorance of the rich Christian tradition that systematically helps us with understanding scripture.
I have called myself Catholic and part of the universal church and you should see how people raise their eyebrows when this simply confesses that I adhere to the Apostles Creed.
Many of you see no need for celebrating Lent and some are adamant against it and I respect that. I know some make fun of people with ashes on their heads (a practice as a sign of mourning and repentance) and there are of people who just are “nominal” church goers who just do things out of ritual with no thought. I am glad we do not have anyone like that in our churches (snicker).
Here is what I have found and I hope it proves helpful for the interested parties.
Lent is a very old Christian tradition that can be traced before or around the legalization of the Christian faith in the edict of Milan around 313AD.
The word Lent comes from an the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, and German word Lenz and Dutch word Lente. The words actually mean length or lengthen because during the month of March and the season of Spring the days become longer. The word Lent can even mean Springtime or March.
From various dictionaries and all, the idea of Lent came from a much longer word (no pun intended) Quadragesima, “fortieth” (Cuaresma) and is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. According to the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting and prayer in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
Thus, Lent is described as being at least forty days during the Spring.
It is that simple.
Christians in the West celebrate Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday and Eastern Orthodox Churches call it “Great Lent” and it begins on Clean Monday. There is also the day before Lent which is Shrove Tuesday in Great Britain (which comes from a word “shrive” meaning to confess) where people eat pancakes before Lent begins because pancakes have fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during strict Lenten celebration. There is also Fat Tuesday where we have the Mardi Gras insanity which true Christians should avoid because the idea of getting sin out of your system by sinning it up, is a deception and unbiblical.
In my humble opinion, there is a double standard among Protestants because they reinvent tradition instead of embracing it. The popular, “Forty days of Purpose” is one example. David Mains has the very helpful, “Fifty Day Spiritual Adventure” and some encourage spending twenty-one days of January in fasting and prayer.
Lent is a time of self-denial and repentance and contemplation on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes the gospel is a lifestyle for all Christians but I am glad we have this tradition in an increasing anti-Christian society.
I will be spending Lenten season reading through the four gospels and if possible reading them several times as a discipline during this season. I encourage you to let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly and learn more and more about the Jesus of the Gospels, in the Bible-the real Jesus.
Lent is an old Christian tradition where we learn about the biblical Jesus. No gimmicks offering changed lives, bigger churches after forty days. We only have to promise Jesus and that is the greatest promise we can make.
©2016 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney