What is Lent? Importance, History, and Practices

Curious what is lent all about and how does it relate to Easter? Lent is often described as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God.

Millions of Christians around the globe find it essential to celebrate religious holidays. One of these significant Christian holidays is the Lenten season. Many beliefs, practices, and traditions surround Lent. For example, you may have observed believers who fast and abstain. This article will discuss what Lent is truly about and why Christians embrace this holiday as a time of sacrifice and reflection.

What is Lent?

Lent is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter. This period sources its literary meaning from the Old English word lencten, which means springtime. It can also be derived from the Germanic word langitinaz, meaning lengthening of the day. It is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During this time, believers focus on the life, sacrifice, ministry, and resurrection of Christ. In 2022, Lent stretches from March 2nd to April 14th.

History and Origin of Celebrating Lent

Many scholars note that the Lenten season was first mentioned from the fifth canon of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The 40-day period resembles the 40-day fast of Christ in the desert before beginning His earthly ministry. Thus, believers adopted the Lenten season as a period of repentance and fasting. Lenten practices generally remained the same throughout time. However, they became more lenient in contemporary times as restrictions on food intake eased, and new practices arose.

Lent in the Bible

There is no specific statement in the Bible mentioning Lent. Many believers illustrate biblical examples that point to the celebration of Lent. However, there is no apparent evidence of the season in Scripture. In the same vein, there is no mandate from the Bible about Lenten rules, especially regarding food intake. It can be said that these practices emerged in church tradition.

Every Christian that chooses to celebrate Lent must do so, keeping Christ as the focus. Engaging in Lenten practices must come from a heart filled with praise and worship rather than a shallow obligation (Matthew 6). Rituals dictated by traditions are not means to earn God’s grace.

Lenten Symbols

Purple

The color of the Lenten season. It symbolizes the state of one’s soul apart from Jesus – a state of mourning and suffering. It also represents repentance.

Ashes

Ashes symbolize sorrow and death. Most people associate ashes and dust. Scripture says that our bodies are made of dust (Genesis 2:7), and we will return to dust (Genesis 3:19). The ashes remind us of our immortality which leads us closer to repentance.

Stones

Stones in the light of Lent symbolize despair, desolation, and austerity. The parallel of the stones in the Bible is when the devil tempted Jesus to turn the stone into bread (Matthew 4:3). As a response to the devil, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) This response of Jesus is a great reminder for believers when fasting during the Lenten season.

Stations of the Cross

Stations of the Cross include fourteen images that portray the Passion of Jesus Christ. These pictures are a common wall mounting inside church buildings, religious houses, and mountainsides. The Franciscans of the Catholic Church popularized devotions, visitations, and prayer in front of the fourteen stations during Lent. Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans observe this practice.

Lamb

The lamb is superficially connected with Lent as lambs are animals born during springtime. But it also has a powerful Christian symbolism. Jewish tradition includes killing a lamb for Passover sacrifice. Christianity holds Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God that was slain as a sacrifice for sins of the world.

Who Celebrates Lent?

Several congregations celebrate the Lenten season. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches are among the famous denominations that observe Lent with rules and practices. However, there are also some Reformed, Baptist, and nondenominational Christian churches that also commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ.

These congregations also differ in the manner of observing the Lenten season. For example, modern Catholic Churches emphasize abstinence. Eastern Orthodox churches uphold the observance of fasting and dietary rules.

Significant Days of Lent

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday starts the Lenten season. A famous tradition during this day is the placing of ashes on the forehead of believers. This practice is mainly observed among Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. The ashes symbolize man’s immortality and depravity.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. The word Maundy means ‘command.’ Christians believe that Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples on this day. And it is in this final supper He also gave His lasting command to them before His crucifixion (John 13:34). Whenever we receive Communion at church, we commemorate what happened on Maundy Thursday (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Good Friday

Good Friday is a day believers commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. It is when Jesus willingly died as He bore the sins of the world. Scholars debate why this day is called ‘Good.’ For onlookers, there is nothing good about this day. Imagine the Messiah suffering in a way nobody in history ever has. But despite several disputes, for Christians, this day is indeed good. Good Friday encompasses God’s promise to redeem His people from their sins (John 3:16-17).

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the day before Easter Sunday. It is regarded as the last day of Holy Week. For the Jews, it is the Sabbath before Easter. It is a period between the death of Christ and His resurrection. After the crucifixion of Christ, His disciples dispersed and were in hiding. Considering the experience of Christ’s disciples, many consider this day as a time of despair and confusion. Christ died, and the disciples were miserable and hopeless. But Christians at present celebrate Holy Saturday with the hope that Easter brings.

Different denominations observe Holy Saturday. However, it is most famous among the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is the most important religious holiday when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is the fulfillment of God’s prophecy (Isaiah 53). The resurrection is the prime foundation of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). Easter is a time for joy and praise. Because of the resurrection of Christ, believers are freed from the cuffs and penalty of their sins. Easter Sunday is when Christians proclaim, “Jesus is alive!” Believers serve a living God.

Importance of Lent

Believers know Lent as a period to prepare and commemorate the death, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. A thoughtful reflection of these events during this season can aid in truly understanding and embracing the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.

As a believer, Lent is an opportune season to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Christ. It is a period that helps build one’s faith and trust in the Lord. As believers engage in sacrifice and denying themselves, they grow in intimacy with the Lord. The Lenten season also becomes a time for observing spiritual disciplines. These disciplines aid in spiritual maturity, provided believers do them with a heart that is centered on Christ.

How is Lent Observed?

Confession

Confession during the Lenten season allows believers to go to the Lord in all humility. They recognize that they are sinners who were saved and redeemed by the Savior. Confessing one’s sins declares a need for the continuing sanctification by the Spirit. In confessing one’s sin, it would be helpful to ask the Holy Spirit to examine one’s heart (Psalm 139:23-24). Some sins in one’s heart may not be easy to decipher. Asking the Holy Spirit to search every corner of the heart helps genuine repentance.

Fasting and abstinence

Fasting and abstinence are spiritual disciplines taken out of Scripture. Even Jesus fasted during His time on earth (Matthew 4:1-2). Fasting and abstinence allow more sensitivity to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as the individual denies the self of worldly pleasures. These disciplines also have health benefits in that it helps cleanse the digestive system from harmful toxins.

In general terms, fasting reduces one’s food intake, while abstinence pertains to avoiding something pleasurable such as meat. In traditional Catholic practice, abstinence is mandatory during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics should not eat meat and eat only one full meal.

There are also different fasting methods that believers do. Some of these include partial fasting, which is to refrain from eating during particular times of the day. Daniel fast is eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and water. A complete fast is drinking only water. Lastly, absolute fast is to refrain from eating solid foods and drinking any liquid.

In modern times, fasting and abstinence include the avoidance of enjoyable activities. These activities include media consumption, alcohol intake, sexual activities, etc. Young believers, for example, do a social media detox to put attention to doing devotionals, prayer, and corporate worship.

It is crucial to assess oneself before doing a fast, especially one that involves dietary restrictions. Consider health precautions to avoid untoward emergencies.

Prayer

In many churches, prayer goes together with fasting.  Various churches worldwide do a congregational fast where they come together to fast and pray. At the end of Lent, they also break the fast as one community.

Followers of Christ know that no believer survives the Christian life without prayer. Praying is communicating to God all our worship, cares, and needs. When praying during Lent, remember that such an act is made possible only through Christ’s death and resurrection. Because the veil of the temple was torn when Jesus died, believers can enter the presence of God. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the way to God is open. Prayer is one way that shows that believers have access to and are no longer separated from God.

Reading and meditating on Scripture

Spending quality time with the Lord is crucial in building spiritual intimacy. Intentional solitude and reflection enable one to listen to God’s voice. Believers can understand the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus because of the inerrancy and validity of Scripture.

It is important to remember not only to read the Bible for mere head-knowledge. Meditating on Scripture is meant to allow believers to be living testimonies of the gospel of Christ.

Doing compassionate works

Lent is a time when believers minister to their neighbors in love and peace. This same manner as God has afforded them through Christ (Hebrews 13:16). Lenten season is a ripe time to pay attention to the struggles and needs of others. It is common to donate to charities, volunteer for a cause, or give extra monetary offerings to the church.

It is noteworthy that compassionate service in the light of the gospel is not a hollow obligation. Instead, it is an overflow of God’s lavish grace and love.

Bible Verses During Lent

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.” (Joel 2: 12-14)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Prayer for Lent

Gracious and mighty Father, thank you for another season that abounds with your grace and great love. We come before your throne of grace in humility. I recognize that there is no cure for the depravity of my soul but the blood of Jesus. Let your gaze shine upon me that I may see the light of your Kingdom.

I lift to you this season of Lent. May you bless my Bible reading, fasting, prayer, and fellowship. Protect me from the attacks of the enemy and the temptations of this world. I ask for your wisdom so that I may genuinely understand the Good News of the Gospel. And may you afford me the courage and boldness to live out with salvation. I need your grace, O Lord. I am nothing without You. In Jesus’ Mighty Name, I pray. Amen.

In Summary

Lent is 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a season of preparation, sacrifice, and reflection. It is common for Christians to pray and fast, abstain, read Scripture, and join congregational Lenten activities during the Lenten season. 

Believers meditate on the foundational doctrine that makes them Christian – Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. These events are not just historical evidence of the Christian faith. They are a fulfillment of God’s prophecy and the supreme manifestation of His love, grace, and forgiveness.

As you take part in Lenten activities, may you keep your heart and mind focused on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. May the Holy Spirit keep you close and remind you of God’s love and grace. And may you remember that “it is finished” (John 19:30) – sin is no more; there is victory over death.

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.


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