Lent, not to be confused with lint, is an important time for Christians as we prepare once again to celebrate the central piece of our faith – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each year, starting with Ash Wednesday, we begin this forty day journey toward Holy Week. In the early church this was a time used to prepare new converts to profess their faith. Often their baptism for which they were preparing would happen at midnight on Easter Morning in recognition that we have died with Christ and are now raised to life. Though the time of preparation varied, in some cases early Christians were required to be part of a three year preparation period. The forty days before Easter were marked out by the early church as a special time of final preparation. It was a time of final preparation, like the last night before a test in school
During this period converts were to practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting with great regularity. In fact, early on, converts were required to perform a forty hour fast prior to Easter as a way of recognizing one’s total dependence upon the grace of God. This forty day journey was a time of self-restraint and turning all focus toward God and God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ.
Biblically speaking, the forty day preparation was meant to mirror Jesus’ 40 day preparation in the desert prior to beginning his ministry. In the same way, converts were preparing to enter a whole new life. They were leaving their old lives and ways of seeing the world behind and enter into a Kingdom way of life. As history progressed, all Christians took on this stance of self-restraint and preparation. As Hoyt Hickman writes in his book, The New Handbook of the Christian Year, Christian initiation is a “lifelong process of being transformed into the life and holiness of our Lord.”
Thus, for Christians, the forty day Lenten journey is to be a mirror of our entire Christian walk. During this time, the point of the forty days is to develop new holy habits and let go of unholy habits; we unlearn and learn righteousness. Indeed this is a lifelong process to become as holy as God asks. Such is supported and empowered by grace.
During this Holy Season, I invite you to enter the journey of Lent once again and dust off a Christian practice. Maybe you will decide to pray three times a day (in the morning, at noon, and evening), maybe you pick a day of fasting on a regular day of the week. Maybe you will pick up the discipline of visiting the homebound once a week. As your pastor, I am inviting you to read the Gospel of Luke. There will be a 40-day reading schedule in your bulletins this Sunday. Perhaps this is what you choose to do. In all these, we will meet the Spirit of Christ who will inspire us into deeper forms of discipleship. Let us prepare our hearts to receive the greatest gift given to us in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bonus: There are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The first five people to tell me why Sundays are left out of the forty days of Lent, I will give you a special prize!