Understanding Lent

  1. By Michael Mathews
  2. On Mar.13.2014

Lent is the forty days leading up to Easter, which commemorates the forty days of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. It is characterized by a focus on penitence, fasting, prayer and works of charity.

In “Evangelical Is Not Enough” Thomas Howard writes:

“Lent, like Advent, is a time of penitence. Here we identify ourselves with the Lord’s fast and ordeal in the wilderness, which He bore for us.

…the gospel teaches us that Christians are more than mere followers of Christ. We are His body and are drawn, somehow, into His own sufferings. We are even ‘crucified’ with Him.

The ancient church, in its observance of Lent, once more asks us to move through the gospel with Christ Himself…

Lent asks us to ponder Christ’s self-denial for us in the wilderness. It draws us near to the mystery of Christ’s bearing temptation for us in His flesh, and of how in the Second Adam our flesh, which failed in Adam, now triumphs.

Lent also leads us slowly toward that most holy and dreaded of all events, the Passion [suffering] of Christ. What Christian will want to arrive at Holy Week with his heart unexamined, full of foolishness, levity, and egotism? To those for whom any special observances hint of legalism or superstition one can only bear witness that the solemn sequence of Lent turns out to be something very different from one’s private attempts at meditating on the Passion. To move through the disciplines in company with millions and millions of other believers all over the world is a profoundly instructive thing.”

Many people find it helpful to voluntarily give up something during Lent, such as a simple pleasure or small luxury, as a reminder of the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. This common practice is not mandated in the Bible nor is it a sign of exceptional spirituality. It is merely a technique to use temporary physical longings to point one toward a deeper spiritual reality.