People tell me they like to be reminded of the meaning of Lent as a Season of the Church year. It can be a time of great spiritual strengthening leading into the full meaning of Easter as a celebration and state of mind. So, I thought I might offer a bit of a refresher for us all.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (this year Feb. 13) and concludes on Easter Sunday. It is a 40-day period during which Christians meditate, with fasting, on the salvation God won for us by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sundays are not included in the 40-day count because every Sunday is a joyful celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection.
The word “Lent” is derived from the Old English “lencten,” which means “lengthen.” It refers to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere as Spring approaches. It is in this period of transition from late winter to early spring that the season of Lent falls.
For many Christians, the season of Lent typically includes some kind of fasting. These fasts usually take the form of abstaining from all food throughout a given 24-hour period, or certain kinds of food for the duration of the 40-day season. In place of a food fast, some Christians commit to give up a pleasurable activity or dedicate themselves to charitable giving. Focus on prayer, study and devotions are also especially emphasized during Lent.
But even though our Lord recommends and comments on the disciplines of fasting, alms giving and prayer in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-18), these practices can easily become legalistic rituals that are centered inwardly on the self rather than on Christ. We do not want to become arrogant and conceited in our spiritual exercises…
It is essential to remember that nothing we do through self-denial or good works can ever earn the Lord’s forgiveness or repay Him for what He accomplished for us. Lent is not about our giving up something to please God. Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world — His holy and innocent life — and becoming better witnesses of that love. It is about strengthening and building up ourselves to be better followers of Christ, not just through one season of the Church Year, but every day of our lives.
May you have a blessed and Holy Lent, growing more and more into the image of God which dwells in you, and into the power of the Resurrection.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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