“Does Westside celebrate Lent? I like your church and all, but I am struggling with the fact that you don’t appear to be doing anything for Lent. What gives?” said a mother as she sat in my office trying to discern if our church was the right church for her family. Like many, she had been raised in a faith tradition that corporately observed the traditional Christian fasts and rituals for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday known as Lent. She recognized that there was nothing in Scripture commanding a follower of Christ to observe the season of Lent, but she also wanted to pass along that faith tradition to her children. It was important to her. I hope my answer will impact her family’s eventual decision on church attendance; even more so I pray that it would impact the faith in her family for generations to come.
Below are some highlights from our conversation about Lent and our church:
Why doesn’t Westside celebrate Lent?
While I cannot begin to speak for everyone, I can say that I do not regularly celebrate Lent because it was never taught to me. For a long time the extent of my knowledge of Lent had to do with Beer, Fish Frys and meatless Fridays at my grandma’s house when I was growing up. As a Pastor at Westside, I am not against Lent, it just isn’t a major part of my faith heritage.
What is Lent?
The word Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning “Spring.” The practice of preparing yourself for Easter by fasting, praying and penance has been observed in various forms since the time of the apostles. Early church writings confirm that there was some level of confusion as to how long one was to fast in preparation for Easter. Some fasted for 40 hours representing the time Jesus was in the tomb and others for 40 days. Eventually the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. fixed the length of Lent at 40 days.
Why 40 days?
The number “40” has deep scriptural roots. Moses stayed with the Lord on Mount Sinai preparing to receive the 10 commandments for 40 days and 40 nights “without eating any food or drinking any water (Ex 34:28).” Elijah walked “40 days and 40 nights” to Mount Sinai in 1 Kings 19:8 and Jesus prepared himself for His earthly ministry by fasting and praying for “40 days and nights (Mt 4:2).” The number “40” is deeply tied in scripture to a season of preparation. It has spiritual and symbolic significance but is not mandated in scripture.
Can I practice Lent in some way at Westside?
Short answer, YES! Scripture? Fasting? Intentional prayer? Self-denial so you can focus on God? YES! YES! YES! YES!
Maybe you are a member of Westside like me and just curious about all of those Fish Frys, or maybe you are looking for a way to bring your faith alive at home. Either way, I would encourage you to consider participating in the season of Lent. You may not be able to “give something up” for the whole 40 days, but you can begin right now, where you are. Ask God how He would have you prepare your heart, mind and body for the celebration of Easter. Do it!