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An Introduction to Lent

by Mike Farley on February 16, 2024

We have now entered the season of the church calendar called Lent, and its story and themes will shape what we do together in worship over the next six weeks. But what is this season, and why are we observing it at Central?

Traditionally, the Lenten season is a forty-day period during which the church prepares for the celebration of the season of Easter. When it first emerged in church history, Lent served primarily as a time of instruction, fasting, and prayer for converts to the Christian faith in the days leading up to their baptism. The practice of observing forty days probably arose in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century as an imitation of fasts by Moses and Elijah as well as Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness following his baptism, which was celebrated on Epiphany (January 6) by Christians in the eastern Roman empire. Following the church’s first major council at Nicea in 325 A.D., the forty days of Lent shifted to the period leading up to Easter, which had become the annual day for administering baptisms in many churches. This pre-Easter observance of Lent quickly became the universal Christian practice. Eventually Lent became a discipline observed by the whole church and not simply new converts.

Lent is a season of reflection, self-examination, and repentance as we meditate on the life of Jesus and his call for us to follow him as his disciples. During Lent, we focus on Christ’s suffering as he sacrificed himself to serve a fallen and broken world. This path led ultimately to his crucifixion for the sins of the world, and thus Lent culminates in Good Friday when we recount and reflect on the event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Our purple paraments in the sanctuary point us to the end of Lent’s journey with images reminding us of Jesus’ death. The color purple symbolizes Jesus’ royalty (seen in the purple robe he wore as he was mocked by Roman soldiers), and the spirit of penitence that should characterize our lives as followers of this king.

Observing Lent is not only about remembering Jesus’ work in the past but also living in the present as his followers walking in the way of the cross. This way leads us to lament the brokenness of ourselves and our world, and we consider new ways to heed Jesus’ summons to take up our own cross and follow the path of suffering service for the sake of God’s kingdom that he first followed on our behalf as the Suffering Servant-King.

While this all might sound depressing and negative, the purpose of Lent is actually quite positive and liberating. Lent can be viewed as a spiritual “spring cleaning,” a time to let Jesus inspect our lives and take a spiritual inventory. It is a time to give a special focus on cleaning out the sinful attitudes and habits that hinder us from following Jesus and establishing new habits and practices that enable us to experiencing the abundant life that we can find in loving and serving God. While we should, of course, repent of our sins and seek spiritual growth at all times, observing Lent provides a regular opportunity in the annual rhythms of church life to “begin again” with renewed focus on examination, repentance, and a return to practices that enable us to love Christ more deeply and follow him more faithfully.

As we strive to heed Jesus’ call during Lent, we must remember that our motivation and strength to follow the Lord is the hope of Easter. Lent’s journey ends not at the cross on Good Friday but at the empty tomb on Easter. We worship the risen and reigning Lord Jesus, and we now look back on Jesus’ death not primarily as a matter for sorrow but as the victory of Jesus our Champion over the brokenness of the world. Because we are united by the Holy Spirit to the resurrected Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, we can face our own sins and weaknesses with faith and hope. In Jesus, we know that we are forgiven and accepted by God, and we have hope for real healing and transformation in our lives.

Our Sunday worship services and daily prayer guide during this season will feature these themes in different elements of worship. Also, on the book table in the Fellowship Hall there will also be a variety of books on the season of Lent that can encourage you in your personal reflection, repentance, and renewal throughout these weeks. May the Lord help us all experience his transformation through the renewing work of our Suffering Savior in this season!

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