When I was growing up, the only people I knew who observed Lent were my Catholic friends, who honestly, didn’t know or care much about Jesus in their daily lives from what I could observe. I remember they had to eat fish for lunch on Fridays in the school cafeteria. I once asked a friend why they did this and they said it was because of Lent and because they were Catholic and that was that.
I chalked this up to another Catholic legalism; another way of trying to earn your salvation. At the time, the only Catholics I knew were my friends who smoked pot, drank and had sex in high school, and begrudgingly attended CCD classes. I figured this was all Catholicism was (it’s not, but that’s not what this post is about) and that since Lent was for Catholics, it wasn’t for me.
The truth is, Lent is awesome. What Lent is is a spiritual discipline. It first originated at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and became official practice in the Church at the Council of Laodicea in 360 AD. If some over the history of the Church have observed Lent in a legalistic way, so be it, but the benefit of Lent is meant to be much more than that.
Lent is an intentional time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. The 40 days represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting from food while being tempted by Satan in the wilderness as he began his public ministry. Lent is a way of fasting from something to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. The fasts vary by tradition but the fast my Catholic friends were observing was to not eat meat (besides fish) on Fridays and to choose something to abstain from, starting on Ash Wednesday (today) and ending on Easter. These intentional times of deprivation from something you’re used to enjoying are a chance to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins. The celebration of Jesus raising from the dead on Easter Sunday becomes all the more exuberant when it is accompanied by a brownie, coffee, or social media usage (just a few examples of what some choose to give up for Lent) that you haven’t had in 40 days, as the celebration becomes extra special and memorable due to getting to partake in this item you gave up.
How often do you “forget” Jesus throughout your day? Wouldn’t it be wise to take time intentionally remember him?
We are inundated with anti-Jesus messages almost constantly in our world today. Any chance we get to intentionally remember Jesus should not be passed up. Lent is one of those times already scheduled in the church calendar and we are only missing out if we pass up this opportunity to draw closer to Jesus.
It’s very important to not allow Lent to become legalistic. To not think it’s a way of earning our salvation or somehow impressing God with our performance. In the same way we shouldn’t allow church attendance, time in prayer, or daily Bible reading to be these same legalistic efforts. But on the same token, just because some use these spiritual disciples legalistically obviously doesn’t mean we should throw them out as means of remembering and drawing near to Jesus.
Choose something you enjoy that you will give up over the next 40 days and use the pangs you have for that thing to be reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice, of his love for you, pouring himself out on the cross to take your place and mine for the punishment our sins deserve. Then celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday by enjoying the item you gave up over Lent.