Many think of Lent as a Roman Catholic thing, but historically Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist, and some Anabaptist, and evangelical churches have also observed the Lenten season. While many of the Protestant denominations have backed off of that over the centuries, there has been some revival of the tradition in recent years. Like most traditions, its value lies in knowing the purpose behind the tradition and engaging it deliberately, rather than in a rote way. So today I offer you a summery of Lent.
Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian church that covers a period of 46 days (40 regular days + 6 Sundays) which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance, charity, and self denial. During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting to emulate the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation from satan. (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13) When engaging in a traditional food fast, participants would take Sunday's off to replenish their physical strength. (This is where the 40 + 6 comes in) However, contemporary believers often utilize a non-traditional fast of giving up a luxury. Many find this practice just as, if not more valuable in our spiritual preparation. Since our post-modern world offers so many more worldly distractions that interfere with our Christian walk. Plus it does not exclude those not in good enough health to engage in a traditional fast safely.
Keep in mind that Jesus taught us that fasting was a highly personal thing between the individual and God. (Matthew 6:16-18) So I would consider the practice voluntary, rather than a requirement. If one chooses to do this, one should consider the Biblical reasons for fasting, rather than do it because that is what you are expected to do at this time. Ultimately fasting is done as a way of disconnecting from the physical world, so that we may better connect with the spiritual one. There are four specific Biblical reasons to fast.
1.) Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32) This is the only Biblically required fast, which served to purge ourselves of sin. However it is not considered necessary under the New Covenant because that’s what Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice brought us once and for all. Repentance could be substituted as a the New Covenant equivalent.
2.) Mourning (Nehemiah 1:3-4, Matthew 9:15) In times of intense grief one can seek the strength of God’s spirit to endure through fasting.
3.) To Petition God. (Ezra 8:23, Daniel 9:1-3) In times when we have big need of God’s guidance or favor, we can seek him through fasting.
4.) Preparation for a mission. This is what Jesus did when he fasted for 40 days after being baptized by John. Which emulated the Israelites 40 year journey of preparation to the promised land. (Deuteronomy 8) When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. -Luke 4:13-14
Calendar of lent
Dates provided are specific to 2015. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the first day of spring. All the days of Lent are in relation to where Easter lands that year.
Ash Wednesday (2/18) The first day of Lent, and derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (based on Mark 1:15) or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Based on Genesis 3:19) Either way this sign of mourning is meant to remind worshippers of their sinful nature and mortality and thus, their need for a Messiah who can guide and strengthen their hearts to seek repentance.
Friday of Sorrows (3/27) A remembrance of Mary mother of Jesus, and the emotional turmoil that Jesus’ sacrifice caused her. Mostly only observed by Roman Catholics, and not other Lent observing denominations.
Holy Week (3/29 - 4/4) The last week of Lent before Easter, where a majority of the special days of Lent occur. Many churches that do not observe lent in full will still observe many of the days of Holy week.
Palm Sunday (3/29) Represents Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11, John 12:12-19)
Holy Wednesday (4/1) Represents the day Jesus was anointed with perfume, which may have served as a turning point for Judas’s betrayal. AKA Spy Wednesday (Matthew 26:6-16, John 12:1-11)
Maundy Thursday (4/2) Represents the last supper. (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26)
Good Friday (4/3) Represents the crucifixion and death of Jesus. (Luke 23:26-49, John 19:16-37)
Holy Saturday (4/4) It commemorates the one full day that Jesus’ body lay lifeless in the tomb. (Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56)
Easter Sunday (4/5) Represents Jesus’ resurrection. Not officially considered part of Lent or Holy Week, but what these special days prepares us for. (Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-12)
Lent, as presented here represents the most common observation of the churches of the western world. However, there are many variations found around the globe.