Last night we observed Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the season of Lent. Most people believe that Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, is about giving things up, but there is so much more than that. Scholars believe that Lent’s original intent was for new Christians preparing for baptism on Easter. In the earliest days of the church, a strict fast would be observed for only a few days leading up to Easter, but in 325 AD, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting that was soon embraced by the whole church as a way to journey with those preparing for baptism and as a way to renew their own faith. Later, the 40-day Lent journey was geared toward restoring those who had grievously sinned back into the church community.
How churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, Christians only fasted on weekdays. The western church's Lent season was one week shorter, but included Saturdays. In both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one simple meal was taken a day, near the evening and did not include meat, fish, or animal products.
According to an article in Christianity Today, until the 600s, Lent began on Quadragesima (Fortieth) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact number of 40 days in Lent—not counting Sundays, which were mini-Easters or feast days—to echo the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. As Christians came to the church for forgiveness, Gregory marked their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and mortality: "You are dust, and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:19).
Over the next few hundred years, some Lenten practices became more relaxed allowing Christians to eat after 3 p.m., and then by the 1400s, they could eat by noon. Eventually, various foods (like fish) were allowed, although it should be noted that Lenten practices in Eastern Orthodox churches are still quite strict.
Today, in 2018, that main focus of Lent remains. It is a season of spiritual preparation, a season of fasting, reflection and renewal for the celebration of Easter. If you are looking to deepen you walk with God, embark of Lenten journey over these next 6 ½ weeks and take a closer look at the spiritual disciples: prayer and worship, self-denial, repentance, and almsgiving and then end with the celebration of the resurrection.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. The LORD will command His loving kindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:7-8)