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Chances are, if you are part of a growing church congregation in America today, your church could be described as post-modern, maybe even “hipster.” You may meet in a converted warehouse, shopping center space, coffeehouse, or movie theater. You probably sing modern worship choruses from Elevation, Jesus Culture, Hillsong and, of course, Chris Tomlin. Your pastor may wear skinny jeans. And you probably have services that live stream on social media sites. All of these elements are designed to help faithful followers of Christ find community, fellowship, and knowledge of God’s Word in post-millennial society. And that is great. Truly great, because we worship a great God who created all things, including our ability to grow and change and thrive as believers in Him. However, in the midst of all things new about church, have we lost our ability to appreciate the traditional? Is there a place for the sacred amongst today’s saints?
Lent is a season of 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. The observation of this period of time is thought to have started by Christ followers in the third or fourth centuries as a way to remember the time leading up to Jesus’s death and resurrection. Today it is a time still worth remembering and continuing to incorporate into our modern worship practices.
Here are 10 things Christians should know about and observe during Lent.
Lent is the 40-day period that leads up to the resurrection from the dead of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a traditional time of drilling down into Bible study and prayer, remembering the sacrifice of Jesus, reliving his ministry in earth, and retelling the stories of his miracles.
Lent always starts on a Wednesday. The reason it is not the same date each year is because it always the 40-day period that ends right before the resurrection of Christ, which is traditionally known as Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday changes dates each year, so Lent also begins on a different date each year. In 2020 the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is February 26.
“Fat Tuesday,” also known as Mardi Gras, is the day before Ash Wednesday. The reason it is known as a no-holds-barred party and feast day is because it is the last day to indulge in all the foods and other items Christians give up, or “fast” from, during the next 40-day Lenten period.
Lent is 40 days long because 40 is a significant number throughout the Bible. Noah and his family were saved from the flood as it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses fasted for 40 days and then God gave him the Ten Commandments. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering lost in the desert before God led them into the Promised Land. Finally, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in desert as He prepared for His ultimate sacrifice for sin of death on the cross.
Today, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Easter and other traditional Orthodox Christians still make an annual practice of observing Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. Many other denominations and nondenominational churches do not. While it’s true that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our works or by observing the law or traditions, there can be beauty and honor in remembering and commemorating the life and sacrifice of Jesus.
You can find and fellowship in Ash Wednesday services in many churches. The service includes the minister or priest using ashes to mark congregants’ foreheads with a cross-shaped symbol. Traditionally, the ashes come from palm fronds burned on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes are mixed with water, which symbolizes tears of sorrow for sin and repentance. The ashes symbolize not only Christ’s death, but also our own mortality and opportunity for eternity when we accept Christ’s death for us.
The color for Lent is purple. Purple represents being sorry for the sins we have committed. It is the color of repentance. However, it is also the color of royalty, recognizing Christ as the King of Kings and also recognizing that we, His people, are adopted heirs of His royal kingdom.
Fasting is the most well-known tradition of Lent. In the Catholic church, participants give up meat on Fridays and observe special fasting periods on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the day we remember as the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion.
Today, some people fast social media, television, alcohol, sugar, or observe periods where no food is eaten during a day or a fixed number of hours. The point is not to feel hunger pangs or deprivation, but to remember Christ’s work when the pangs come and to use the time that would have been spent eating or watching TV, for example, to focus on additional Bible study and prayer. Some people also give additional time to volunteering in order to serve others.
Lent signifies the opportunity for a fresh start. It is a time when Christians can once again confess their sins to God, ask for His forgiveness, and experience in a fresh way the closeness of Christ. It is a call for change and a promise to commit to putting God first in our lives. It empowers Christians to live and display their faith in a real way to those around them.
For today’s Christian, observing Lent is not a command. We are not bound to it by law, but it is important that we not forget the beauty of the sacred and of sacrifice in the midst of our freedom in Christ. Giving up a Netflix binge, our favorite desserts, or even a day’s worth of food costs us little in comparison to what Christ did for us on the cross, and the way He continues to show up in our lives today. So how will you observe Lent this year? What sacrifices can you make to Honor Christ and serve those around you?
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