Most people associate Lent with people fasting and “giving up” something like meat, chocolate, social media, etc. But what is Lent? How did it get started?
You’re going to have a hard time finding Lent in your Bible. It’s not there. When the last New Testament books and letters were written, Lent had not yet been developed. The season of Lent emerged as a faithful response to God in a time where Christianity flourished for the wrong reasons.
The widespread emergence of Lent occurred in the 300s CE as Christianity struggled with the effects of its growing power and influence in the Roman Empire. Starting in 312 CE, Christianity began receiving special treatment in Rome through Emperor Constantine. By 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the state religion.
With its new place of imperial favor, Christianity was no longer just a path of fidelity in the face of potential persecution, it had become a path towards privilege, power, and money. Politicians and wealthy businessmen now had political reasons for converting to Christianity. Christianity’s numbers grew as it became harder to distinguish people’s motivations for being Christian.
The Roman Empire became filled with nice Christians, but less holy ones. Many Christians responded by fleeing to the wilderness to live as monks and nuns. Monks like Saint Anthony of Egypt, who left the city life behind for a life of prayer and poverty, became flooded with Christian travelers journeying to learn about a different path of holiness.
In this time, the season of Lent emerged as a 40-day season of fasting, penitence, reflection, and preparation before the celebrations of Easter Sunday. The joys of Easter Sunday are easy and popular, but who was willing to wrestle with the difficulties and temptations that prepare for Good Friday?
Some people consider Lent dour because they dislike the idea of giving up one of their favorite treats, but Lent was developed to intermix the seriousness of simple devotion alongside the joy of Easter. Before it was called Lent, the season was simply called tessarakoste (“fourtieth”), which might remind you of Pentecost (“fiftieth”). If, however, you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) it doesn’t add up to forty days. Sundays in the season didn’t count since they were seen as weekly celebrations of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian hope. The juxtaposition of Lenten simplistic devotion with joyful Sundays of Christian hope provides a spiritual depth that prepares the way for Easter celebration.
Christians for hundreds of years have longed to follow Jesus more faithfully and not settle for popular, cultural Christianity. This Lenten season, our sermon series, “In God’s Name,” examines the ways we describe God and God’s actions in the world. By Good Friday, Jesus will be charged with blasphemy for announcing and living out God’s liberation for the world. As we faithfully follow God, we should not be surprised that others, particularly other Christians, might consider our devotion to be blasphemy too. Early Christians committed to a Holy God and you can too.
Each day, you’re invited to pray, to sing, to read scripture, and to reflect. Throughout the guide, you’ll see imagery that invites you to contemplate how you see God. What artwork, what music, what scripture might invite you to see God afresh? We invite you to explore with us. Our prayer is that this guide might be a launching pad for your Lenten journey. As you encounter a Bible verse, a song, a prayer, and go to explore it more, may you find God there. If you go to our website, fbcjxn.org/devotions, each day there will be a new post that includes the scripture of the day, prayers, and links to videos that include the song of the day.
As you learn more about who God is, you learn more about who God calls you to be. If you hear Christ calling you towards more, we hope you’ll join us in this Lenten season. Let us journey together in Lent towards Easter.