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.

Comment on a post