Why Do We Observe Lent? (And How?)

By March 2, 2019My Thoughts

I am often asked where Lent is found in the Bible, and the truth is that it occurs nowhere in Scripture. Lent – the forty day period of preparation between Ash Wednesday and Easter – is never mentioned in the Bible. For some, the absence of Lent in Scripture has been held up as a reason why Christians should not observe Lent at all.

I have a couple of responses to that:

  1. Christians observe many things that are not in the Bible: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost to name just a few.
  2. Just because something is not in the Bible does not mean it is antithetical to Scripture.
  3. Lent is not a requirement – so it’s okay if it is not for you, or is not something your church/denomination participates in – but many Christians over the course of centuries have found it meaningful for their spiritual lives.

Some form of lenten observation began as early as the second century. During this earliest time in church history, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote about a short season of repentance and preparation before Easter (though his was only a couple of days long). The concept of a 40 day period of preparation was discussed by the Council of Nicea (325 AD), though it may have been reserved for those preparing for baptism.

While the practice of lenten penitence and fasting has not always been located from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, and while it has not always been forty days long, the historical roots for the season of Lent run deep.

For me personally, I have found great meaning in walking with intentionality through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus every year. I have found that moving with the flow of the church year has shaped and formed my heart. There is something rich and meaningful to me about burying the alleluias every Transfiguration Sunday, and then letting the alleluias ring out loud and clear at the first light of Easter morning.

Ash Wednesday has become one of my very favorite services of the year, which might sound strange. I have found comfort in being invited to reflect on the fragility of my life. In a death-denying culture, spending that time reflecting on our mortality and our deep reliance on God is counter-cultural and needed. There is something about the dirty hands and ash-marked foreheads that changes me every year.

My second favorite day of Lent is Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is a day of quiet, a day of rest, a day when Jesus was in the grave and not yet risen. There is something about that in-between that reminds me of the in-between we are in between the already and not yet of the kingdom.

Lent is my favorite season to plan for in my church ministry. I am inspired as I think about Jesus’ movements, his struggling disciples, and the crowd that moves from “Hosanna!” to “crucify him” in a matter of days. There is something about Lent that feels so earthy and real. For that reason, I look forward to it every year.

Now that I’ve shared my “why,” I wanted to share with you some ideas for “how.” Below you will find practical things you can do to observe Lent, and some reflections to accompany the lenten journey. Though some of these were written with children in mind, their practice and symbolism can be meaningful for people of all ages.

Ash Wednesday

You Are Dust – Teaching Ash Wednesday to Children

Reflection – Dirty Hands

Fasting and Spiritual Disciplines

Finding Lent in Children’s Books – a lenten journey through kids’ books

What do you do when your fast could interfere with someone else’s hospitality?

Intentional Lenten Disciplines

Holy Week

Short Object Lessons for Holy Week

Reflection – What Holy Week Is Like in a House with Two Pastors

Palm Sunday

Reflection – The Tension of Palm Sunday

Reflection – Hosanna! Save Us, Jesus!

Maundy Thursday

Love One Another – Teaching Maundy Thursday to Children

Reflection – A New Commandment: Love One Another

Good Friday

A Paper Cross – Teaching Good Friday to Children

Reflection – The Ordinary Cross

Reflection – Hope-Filled Words on a Hopeless Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Reflection – The Sacred Day of In-Between

Prayers

Excess

Lord,

I know a thing or two about excess.
From the 700 channels I casually surf between on my television
to the extra brownie I ate just because it was in the pan
to the 20 minutes I stand outside my closet because I can’t decide which shirt to wear.

Excess is something I’m steeped in.
It makes sense to me.
Even though deep inside I know it also overwhelms and oppresses me.

But fasting.
Wanting.
Waiting.
Listening.
Making space.

These are things that I know are holy.
These are things that I know will lead me to your abundant life.
But, I feel afraid to take the first step of the journey.

Will you lead me away from the excesses that clutter my view
and my heart?
Will you lead me to you?

Labeling

If I give up nothing else for Lent, perhaps I could give up labeling. 
I could give up placing people into boxes,
as though they were commodities.
Instead of treating people as either/or,
perhaps I could see them as both/and, 
more beautiful and complex,
more in-progress and dynamic.

If I give up nothing else for Lent, perhaps I could give up labeling.
I could give up judgmentalism.
I could give up isolating myself from others by 
placing myself on an island,
only instead of surrounded by seas,
I’m surrounded by my own war of words.

If I give up nothing else for Lent, perhaps I could give up labeling.
Perhaps I could cross the ocean of judgment,
and find I was never alone at all.

I hope these resources are of help to you in your spiritual journey. If you have lenten disciplines or resources that have been meaningful, would you share them in the comments? Is Lent a meaningful journey for you, is it something you’ve never done, or something you aren’t interested in at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.