Summary: “Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter.
“Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same:
demonstrated by self-denial,
in preparation for Easter.
Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.
In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it's unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church. It was then the idea was connected to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry right after his baptism and his 40 days in the desert where he was tempted. Matt 4:1-2 says:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished.
How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church's Lent was one week shorter, but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten.
Until the 600s, Lent began on Fortieth (40th) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday.
Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, meaning “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of spring. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. Lent comes at a time when the hours of daylight are ‘lengthening’, as spring approaches, and so it is a time when we too can ‘lengthen’ spiritually, when we can stretch out and grow in the Spirit.
While many older protestants will say Lent is a “Roman Catholic” ritual, we reject. That statement is not entirely true. Many mainline denominations give credence to the work of the Council of Nicea in 325 where Lent was established as a regular part of the Christian year. The goal of which was to reorient our lives by focusing our lives on the disciplines of the Christians are urged to refrain from business as usual in order to attend to the body, spirit, mind, soul, and heart. It is a time set aside for worshipers to connect their faith walk with the ways in which they live, move, and have their being throughout daily life. Thus, the Lenten journey is a renewed spirit and a genuine desire to become an incarnational presence in the world.
To get us re-booted in the Spirit, Let’s dive into a traditional Lenten Scripture for the first Sunday of Lent. It is said by many scholars that it is “one of the most difficult portions of all of the New Testament.” comes from 1 Peter 3:18-22.
So I will read it through once and then dive in.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[b] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Again, verse 18…
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
The words “to bring you to God.” are better understood as “gaining an audience with God” Because of the work of Jesus, we have open access to God. We don’t need anyone else to stand between us and God. Jesus did all the work to justify our communicating directly and receiving his unmerited favor in the endeavors which would please Him. When we say the word “God’s grace” this is what we are alluding to.
After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.