What’s Lent and Why Do I Care?

The great thing about the What’s in the Bible? online community is that we come from such diverse backgrounds!  Most of us are Christians, but not all.  We come from every denomination (and non-denomination) imaginable!  It’s such a great honor to write for you and to hear your feedback– and above all– to learn from each other, with one goal in mind; refining our own Biblical literacy and putting it into practice in our lives on a daily basis.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday–Lent has begun!  But what is Lent?  What’s its Biblical relevance?  Could it be pagan in origin?  Why should I even care?

During the next month and a half I hope to delve into the history, traditions and Biblical relevance of Lent.  Not to convert anyone– but rather to share some church history with this community.  As always, I welcome your input and questions, and I’d love to see us discuss this on the blog.

Let’s start with the history of Lent.  What’s it all about?

Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar.  It is a preparation for the Easter Season.  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.  Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote about such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not 40 days.

In 325, the council of Nicea discussed a 40 day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s not clear whether its original intent was just for the new Christians (Catechumens) preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole church.

Self denial…preparation…  Lent also takes us, metaphorically, back to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert before His own ministry started.  We are readying ourselves during these next 40 days.

Lent definitely has a baptismal theme.  It is a time when the faithful renew their baptismal commitment in front of the community.  In the Catholic church, as in many mainline Protestant churches, Lent is the season where those who are entering into the final preparations for baptismal initiation into the community, are welcomed.

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, but what do those black smudges on the foreheads of the faithful actually symbolize?  Is it pagan in nature?  No, not at all.

The ashes are symbols of repentance (sack cloth and ashes) and our own mortality and looking forward to our final judgement after this life (we will return to dust).  Therefore the ashes tie into the Easter theme of death and resurrection.  We are reminded that we must die now to sin and rise to a new life with Jesus.

Ashes represent an outward reminder of our need for conversion.  A change, through Christ, that we are about to experience at Easter. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are from the palm leaves that were used in the celebration of Palm Sunday during the previous year.

Moms: here’s a printable Lenten Calendar for kids.  It can be colored and displayed in a place where they can keep track of the days leading up to Easter.

Next week I’ll tackle the idea of “giving up something for Lent”.  What it means, why people do this, and the Biblical aspect of this practice.

Please continue to share with us your trusted web sites, Lenten prayers, and Lenten family traditions.  We look forward to growing with you during the next 40 days!

You can follow Lisa on twitter @lisastrnad and she blogs regularly at talkinglikeagirl.

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5 comments
Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Hey Roger, thanks for pointing out that we need to include more dad stuff! I couldn't agree more. As a mom I have many online resources that are mainly geared to Christian moms or women, in general. I'd love to have a resource to point dads to! If you have a trusted online dad site, let us know. And in the future I will be sure to include moms AND dads in my reference points. Thanks for the support! Denise thanks for the Bible references! Coming from a liturgical background much of what we practice is tradition based- and it's always good to know where we can reference WHY we do what we do in the Bible.

Ori
Ori

Great. Now, can we have this information in a more...how shall I say it...piratical form ;-) ?

Denise M
Denise M

The ashes are not just smudged onto your forehead, they are done in the shape of the cross. We have been saved by Jesus Christ. He is our salvation. In addition to the traditional "Remember that you are dust, and to dust your shall return," (another way of saying 'be prepared') as the ashes are placed on your forehead, there is also the option of saying, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." Both acknowledge our total dependence on God. Just a couple of verses commenting on ashes: Psalm 102:10 Daniel 9:3 Esther 4:1 Luke 10:13 For those of you with a bible that includes the apocrypha: Judith 4:11

Nalan
Nalan

Thank you. I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Lent this year. It is not a part of my Christian heritage so you have answered many of my questions. I look forward to hearing more about this. Thank you for all the work you do.

roger
roger

Just curious - any reason why you only mention moms when you mention the printable Lenten calendar? Dads might actually want to print one of those out for their kids, too, you know. I say that in jest, but it does bother me that so much of what the media is trying to put into the hands of kids, whether it's in commercials or blogs or films or TV shows, is aimed squarely at Mom. It's as if dads don't exist, or at least as if dads aren't very involved in the lives of their children. I guess that's for the womenfolk to handle, eh? Gee, I thought we'd gone beyond that. But it's like Toy Story; you sit there, you watch, you laugh, and then you say - "Hey! Where's the dad???" It appears he's not needed.