Today is Ash Wednesday and so formally begins the season of Lent. Lent has been observed by liturgical churches for centuries. In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of evangelical churches participating in the Lenten season and with that comes a few questions from our customers who are new to the practice. Here are some of the most common questions.
Where is Lent in the Bible? You’ll look in vain for any reference to Lent in the Bible. But we have other observances/traditions which are not referenced in the Bible. (For example, Sunday school is not mentioned in the Bible, but it has served the church well for decades in helping the congregation learn the Bible.) This isn’t to say the principles behind Lent aren’t Biblical. A call for public repentance certainly has precedent (Joel 2:12-18), and the use of ashes to express repentance from sin is seen throughout the Old Testament (Job 42:6; Jer. 6:26; Dan. 9:3).
Do I have to be Catholic to observe Lent? No, certainly not. Lent is observed by several Christian traditions including, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and even a few Baptists.
How long is Lent? It is 40 days starting with Ash Wednesday (or Monday, March 11 in the Eastern tradition) and ending with the Saturday before Easter. Although the length of Lent has varied throughout church history it eventually settled on 40 days modeled after Jesus’s 40 days in the desert. What many people do not know is that Sundays are not counted during Lent since they are Feast days in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. If you’re giving up coffee for Lent you can still have a nice dark roast each Sunday leading up to Easter.
What are the rules of Lent? Well, technically there are no rules. The chief characteristics are prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Some who give up something (let’s say coffee) will donate what they save from that fast toward a charity (hence the alms giving). Some might fast from one activity (time on Facebook) and substitute that with something else (time in the Scriptures). Catholics will abstain from meat and poultry on Fridays during Lent. There are broad outlines of what’s observed during this season. Most of the details are completely up to you.
Can I do it alone? Sure, but I’ve found it more meaningful when done with a community who are participating as well. There will be a future post on this point.