Summary: Lent is a ritual of the Church that leads us into the hope we have in Jesus. Fasting and Prayer are disciplines of Lent to bring about suffering to draw a person closer to God
“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.
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 Second Sunday of Lent. It comes from Romans 4. The apostle Paul is writing to this letter from Corinth to new believers he had not visited. He means for the whole letter/book to be a treatise of sorts explaining/arguing/presenting the gospel as if he were in person. It is a classic writing that helps us all come to a greater understanding of its main theme - justification by faith. That is, by having a belief in Jesus, we are good with God. He sees what Jesus did and says in effect, if you’re with Him then you’re good with me. He says this in many different ways but it’s a main theme. Let me read this snippet once and then we will dive in.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
The beginning of the chapter has Paul bringing up the idea of circumcision because of the physical difference between a Jewish male and the rest of the world as a way in which some claimed to be saved and others excluded from the love of God. A fact many a non-Jewish believer would have questioned or wondered about. Paul wanted to make it crystal clear - no action on our part can assure of us a place in God’s family. It is only one's belief in what Jesus did by suffering, dying and rising that opens the door to a relationship with God that assures us our future.