Today: Monday, March 30, 2020



It can be a good time to
exercise self-restraint

Lent is the forty days, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. The word is supposed to derive from an old word indicating the ‘lengthening’ of the days as winter turns to spring.

As Easter is the most important Christian festival, commemorating Jesus’ death and resurrection and his conquest over sin and death, Lent is a time of preparation and reflection. Christians reflect particularly on their own sinfulness and the fact that one day we will all face death.

On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, some Christians mark their foreheads with ashes, to symbolise these reflections. Lent also looks back to Jesus’ own period of fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his work—and, further back, to the wanderings of the Israelites on their way to the promised land.

Lent is traditionally associated with fasting and giving things up. In the Middle Ages, people were supposed to give up meat and dairy products: cultural differences must have made this a little unfair, with people in France, Spain and Italy continuing to enjoy their extra virgin olive oil, while the poor Brits were denied so much as a pat of butter for their comfort!

However, this does raise a serious point. Lent is not all about producing a list of nice things to give up for a time. People give things up for all sorts of good and bad reasons, and special diets are particularly fashionable at the moment. Sometimes it is a matter of genuine health needs, but it can be associated with faddishness, obsession with our bodies, and even arrogance, as we look down on those who fail to meet our levels of gastronomic purity, all the while forgetting those many people in deprived parts of the world who can find nothing to eat at all.

Fasting or giving things up in Lent should be an optional discipline. If it helps you concentrate your mind on God, overcome your weakness of will, or even express solidarity with those who lack food and other good material things, then it is a fine thing to do, and follows the example of Jesus himself. Otherwise, it is pointless—or even spiritually dangerous.

Some Christians prefer not to fast or give things up, but to use Lent as an opportunity to revive their Christian life, to deepen their routine of prayer, to try to be more charitable, or to seek grace to overcome some sin or weakness in their lives, in the hope that habits learned in Lent will continue with God’s help throughout the year. (Actually, this is something which all Christians need to do, whether they give things up or not!)

People in challenging careers and professions are often encouraged to put aside time regularly for periods of retraining, and this can only be a good thing. In much the same way, Lent can be an opportunity for the re-training of Christians as each year they prepare for the great celebration of Easter.

Explore this subject in more depth

Look up Lent in Wikipedia

Follow a calendar of readings and prayers for Lent (adjust dates for current year)

Read more about Lent, including Mardi Gras

Read the book Life Attitudes: A Five-session Course on the Beatitudes for Lent by Robert Warren & Sue Mayfield

Read the book A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent by Martin L. Smith

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