Should Christians observe Lent?
Having been raised in the Baptist tradition, the observance of Lent was not practiced. I knew that some people ate no meat and ate fish on Fridays because when I went to the market with my mom during this time there were signs for sales on fish all over the indoor stalls. Talks with the neighbors revolved around innovative fish recipes, and street vendors sold crisp, fried fish dumplings (much like a savory donut hole) – so good! These practices were foreign to me, and it never occurred to me that Lent could be an observance I could benefit from.
I grew up calling it the Holy Week, but truthfully not much about the week of Easter was ‘set-apart’. And naturally in my own family that was even more the case as parenting brought the busy school spring season. We didn’t prepare special meals, have special readings with the children, or sing special hymns during the week (only on Easter Sunday). It wasn’t long until, in the days after Easter was celebrated, I was left thinking I’d missed something. As I pondered this, I was utterly disappointed that the most precious day of observance to a believer had come and gone with only my cursory attention.
Lent is a purposeful preparation of our hearts for the celebration of the most pivotal moment in all of human history – and the most intimately revolutionary moment in each of our lives if we are believers in Christ. This spiritual preparation of the believer ultimately culminates in a joyous celebration of Easter, Resurrection Day!
Daily discipline is a key part of this preparation as it spurs and strengthens our faith and is intended to point us toward Jesus. If the observance of Lent, however, as only a short-term exercise that does not encourage us to intimacy with Christ the rest of the year, it will be an empty tradition. Lent itself isn’t the issue. Lent doesn’t inherently add spirituality to our lives. Grace isn’t gained by any spiritual discipline that we may commit to. Fasting, prayer, baptism, repentance, communion are not a means to God’s love. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8) Participating in the practice of Lent is not about the tradition for tradition’s sake, or obeying an edict to remain in God’s good favor. Mindlessly repeating a practice is superfluous and will harm, rather than profit, our souls. Furthermore, it’s certainly not a way of penance, or self-punishment because of our sins:“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
Last year, my friend Jen commented that she was about to start Lent, and I asked if I could do it with her. She suggested 10 minutes of quiet daily prayer. Those daily minutes to ponder on Jesus’ death, His suffering, and His burial drew me into the events like it never had before. Approaching God daily for the purpose of preparing my heart for Gethsemane, Golgotha, and ultimately Resurrection Day heightened my awareness and joy. By meditating upon the depths of Christ’s sacrifice, His glorious resurrection was beautiful and solemn.
Lent is a way to appreciate more deeply the meaning of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. How can we be purposeful and simple in our efforts to focus ourselves on Him? You may want to participate in some act of kindness – especially something that is small and you could do everyday, use a Lenten devotional to focus our thoughts, or maybe read portions of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection each day.
I pray that God will prepare us for a fresh experience and renewed anticipation this coming Easter!
with love, Damaris