Sunday, March 1, 2020
40 days before Easter Sunday, many churches celebrate Lent. It usually begins with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and ends on Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead.
Sometimes the season of Lent is associated with the idea of the wilderness in Scripture. Understanding the principle of brokenness is another important value to all followers of Christ.
Many congregations do not normally observe Lent as a religious tradition. Nonetheless, the ideals of service, sacrifice, fasting, penitence and prayer are worthy practices of every follower of Christ.
BAPTISM, LENT & EASTER SUNDAY
The Lent tradition seems to have emerged from the sudden influx of people who wanted to become Christians once the legal penalties were removed by Constantine around 315 A.D. The early church’s practice of baptisms on Easter Sunday gradually expanded to include the 40 days preceding Easter and more. This was to allow time to disciple people from largely pagan background, teaching them the core doctrines of Christ and the church as a prerequisite to baptism. In its earliest years, its essence was an evangelistic desire that strongly connected baptism with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
With the advent of infant baptism in the early centuries after Christ, however, the connection between baptismal service and Easter Sunday had largely disappeared by the time of the Reformation. *
The concept of 40 days and nights marked moments of significance in God’s dealing with fallen mankind. Consider the life and times of these great leaders and their role in the history of God’s people: Noah (Genesis 7), Moses (Exodus 24, 34), The Spies (Numbers 13), Israel (Numbers 14) and Elijah (1 Kings 14).
Of course, our prime example of the importance of the wilderness is Jesus Christ Himself, Who, immediately after his baptism by John, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He did not resist the Spirit’s lead. Rather, Luke tells us that in spite of the crowds that were gathering around Him–perhaps, in part, because of them–Jesus would often retire to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:15-16). In other words, Jesus would embrace the wilderness as a means of connecting to his Father.
And so, the parallels between the ideals of the season of Lent, our Christian walk and Jesus’ time in the wilderness convict us. All of these describe the all-day, every-day lifestyles of followers of Christ that go beyond 40 days and nights. And isn’t that the purpose of Lent, after all? It reminds us all of the importance of the consecrated life lived before an Everlasting God by the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ! These are every-day yet eternal truths that cannot be moved!
Sometimes it seems that happiness itself is the goal, meaning and purpose for so many lives. Still, there are special people in this world who have become accustomed to the wilderness periods of life, learning to embrace them as opportunities to know God more intimately.
Perhaps the achievement of happiness is pursuing goals, meanings and purposes in life that–though littered with wilderness wanderings–are anchored in Someone Greater than ourselves!
* For further reading about the genesis of Lent and the traditions that surround it, these references may be helpful:
For analysis of the early development of the church’s assimilation of new converts and Abrose’s (340-397 A.D.) influence on the teaching of those early ‘new convert’ classes:
“Ambrose and Catechetical Instruction” in the Online Library of Liberty.
For an interesting discussion of Lent as understood by the Reformed tradition, check out:
“Yes and No: Lent and the Reformed Faith Today” in The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.