By Clay Myatt
Next Wednesday, February 26th, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40-day period (not counting Sundays) called Lent leading up to Easter Sunday. The brief history of Lent is as follows: As early as the second century we have writings from church fathers talking about a season of self-examination and repentance leading up to Easter. By the time of the Council of Nicaea (325), there is a reference to a 40-day Lenten season of fasting for new Christians preparing for baptism, and soon that 40-day season began to be observed by other Christians.
By 1500, the Catholic Church had instituted a mandatory fast during Lent, and because many of the Reformers saw elements of legalism in this practice, they ignored the fast completely. Thus, many Evangelical Christians today associate Lent with Catholicism and, potentially, legalism.
That said, we do need to acknowledge that the most important events of our faith, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, happened in history – at a specific time in the calendar year. And as creatures who are prone to forget, it can be quite helpful to take an intentional season of time each year to reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus just as we do for his incarnation (Advent).
We do need to give a caveat. The practice of observing Lent should be viewed more in the category of something “beneficial” instead of something “required” (and beneficial!) like the taking of the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus himself commands us to do to reflect on his death and resurrection. That being said, many Christians have found it helpful to take an extended season of time to reflect on what Jesus has done for us – just as Jesus himself “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
In light of Lent approaching, we’d like to make you aware of four ways you can observe this season:
Christianity Today – 10 different contributors ($17.50 for ten)
Saying Yes to Life – specific focus on creation ($15.00)
Journey to the Cross ($12.79)
Holy Week Devotional (Free!)