Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of lent. Lent is a somewhat confusing time for most Methodists. Its a time when our evangelical brothers and sisters think we’re catholic and when our catholic brothers and sisters aren’t really sure we know what we’re talking about.
Lent is a 40 day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (not including Sundays). The season before Easter was from the earliest days of Christian faith celebrated as a time in which Christians would fast and increase their practices of the spiritual disciplines. It has, from those earliest times, been a season in which Christians draw nearer to God in order to be ready to celebrate the Resurrection.
During the first several centuries it was the season of lent that was dedicated to training new believers about what it meant to live as a Christian in the world. This process, known as catechesis, was completed during Lent and the persons who had completed catechesis and were ready to join the Christian Church would be united to Christ in the waters of baptism at the Easter Vigil. (I’ll save this for a later blog.)
Lent is a time that invites us to deny ourselves and to draw closer to God. The important thing is to remember that this is not a contest to see who can out fast who. That tends to reduce the holiness of the practice of fasting and becomes an envious endeavor. I suggest if this is your first time observing the seasonal fast of lent to give up something that will be challenging without trying to do a complete fast (liquid only diet) from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
Over the years I’ve given up a variety of things: from soda, red meat, and sweets. Each year as we approach the season of lent, Ashley and I begin to have conversations about what we will give up (We’ve found it works better when doing it together). This season we’ve decided to give up things that are generally bad for us anyway.
Some folks take on new disciplines during lent, new bible studies, new devotional programs and other disciplines. This lent we’re also going to try to live a little greener this lent by beginning to implement a recycling program in our house. Why can’t we do some environmental good and grow in holiness too.
There is always a debate about whether to fast on Sundays or not. Sundays were never included in the count of 40 days because it is counter to the message of the resurrection to fast on the Lord’s day. Now there are certainly some who will argue that if you break your fast on Sundays then you haven’t really fasted for 40 days.
I’m not saying that on Sundays you ought to pig out on whatever you’ve given up (whether food or tv or otherwise). I tend to think it is acceptable to break your fast on Sundays without getting carried away, for example if you give up chocolate and on each Sunday you sit down and have a piece of chocolate cake. If however, you sit down and eat the whole cake that might be somewhat counter intuitive to the fasting season. Your fast is equally as valid if you break the fast on Sundays as it is if you don’t.
Every lent I am reminded that the purpose of our fasting is to more fully appreciate the joy of Easter. The hymn writer says,
And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.
Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.
Good lent to you.
Claudia F. Hernaman, Lord Who Throughout These Forty Days, 1873.