So, today Wednesday the 22nd of Febuary is the first day of Lent in 2012… Which is all well and good, but what is Lent? Why do people give things up? What on earth does it have to do with pancakes?
Lets start at the start, where did lent come from originally?
Lent is how Christians remember the time Jesus spent in the desert. Just after Jesus was baptised He went into the desert, and prepared for his ministry. Kind like an athletes pre-season warm ups.
This account in Matthew tells us how Jesus was baptised and then went off into the wilderness. There he is tempted by Satan, and has to really prepare himself for the coming trials – which would last about 3 and a half years, when he was executed.
So that’s the root of Lent. What is Lent now?
Lent is now a time when people give things up, for 40 days (not counting Sundays). It’s become a social thing that lots of people do, but it is still based on the time Jesus spent in the desert. It spans from Ash Wednesday (today) and finishes on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Six and a half weeks.
What’s the point of Lent?
During Lent people give things up. Often we hear about people giving up things like Chocolate, drinking, smoking. In more modern times Facebook is a common thing to give up, Twitter and other social networking sites are also popular choices to give up.
Personally, I’m giving up Social networking websites (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) Irn Bru and Chocolate.
So why give these things up?
Lent is a Christian festival, like Christmas and is a part of Easter. When Christians give things up it is so they can grow closer to God. The point is you give something up, and when you would have been doing that, you spend the time in prayer, reading the Bible or helpful books.
The point is you give up something unhelpful, and start doing useful things. So, giving up Facebook etc, gives me a HUGE amount of spare time. Actively avoiding Facebook gives me more time and space to study God’s word. It is about actively focusing on God, and spending more time with him.
Why give up Chocolate and Irn Bru? Well, that’s more of an earthly reason, they’re expensive and there are far more important things to spend money on. Such as real food.
Why 40 days?
Well, 40 days is a significant length of time.
In Noah’s day it rained for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:12)
Moses spent 40 days with God before He was given the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 25-26)
In Jonah’s day God gave the people of a city called Ninevah 40 days to say sorry for being bad guys. (Jonah 3)
And then it crops up again with Jesus. 40 seems to be a solid Biblical number for just before God does something special.
In Genesis God starts over, in Exodus God gives us a new set of rules, in Jonah God forgives.
This time God does all three. It’s the big one.
At the end of Lent, on Easter Sunday we celebrate that Jesus was brought back to life. That He died for us (on Good Friday), He then defeated sin and was then brought back to life on the Sunday.
We celebrate that God has given us a clean slate, He has forgiven us of every little mistake – that white lie you told all those years ago. To the biggest and worst of mistakes. Nothing is too bad for God.
Best of all he wipes away all of the rules, and instead gives us a counsellor – so we don’t have a set of strict rules that are designed to suck all the fun out of life, instead we have a relationship with God through which He encourages us to live life to the full (John 10:10)
To recap – Lent isn’t about giving up something we’re doing wrong. It’s about trying to improve ourselves, trying to grow closer to God, to become strong. To become a better person. This has been recognised to the point where even people who know nothing about Christianity spent 40 days giving something up in an effort to improve themselves.
Life is about living. Living to the full.
“I came to give life—life in all its fullness.” – Jesus.
Life is no mystery. Life is living.