As early as the mid-fourth century, Christians have observed Lent (from the Old English word lencten meaning lengthen and because of the lengthing of days also refered to the ‘spring season’) a time of preparation before the Easter celebration. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday (22February) and lasts for the next 40 days not including Sundays. The forty days of Lent recall the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:1-2) and Moses’ 40 day fast on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). It is a time of simplicity and preparation.
- Baptismal renewal
- Preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil
- Prayer, fasting, and service
- Confession of sin rooted in the promise of God that comes through the cross of Christ
Color of the Season
Purple, suggesting somberness and solemnity.
Historically, Christians have prepared for the celebration of the Resurrection by fasting. Fasting was thought to be beneficial to the Christian because evil spirits used food as a means of entering the body. Fasting then limited the possibility of the Christian to contract an evil spirit. Over time, however, fasting became more of a discipline for Christians. During this period of fasting, Christians would not eat any food during the day until the middle of the afternoon. Even though the body strongly desired food, the Christian was to put this desire aside and focus instead on the things of God, the very Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Matthew 4:4). The roots of fasting can be traced back to the writings in the Old Testament. Fasting was a means for God’s people to practice control over the body. Understood in that light, fasting is still valuable for Christians today.
Many of us love to eat. And we don’t just eat a little or until we are full and we don’t always eat the best things for us. We often eat more than we should. We do so because we allow the body to control what we eat and how much. This does not have to be for God’s people. Paul writes to the Galatians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh… And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:16–17, 24).
Such desires of the flesh appear in other ways along with gluttonous eating. Paul specifically mentions the sexuality of the Christian as greatly influenced by the flesh as well as the way we conduct ourselves with others. Truly, there are many ways in which we as Christians can practice self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23).
None of this talk of fasting is to lead us as Christians to conclude that we must do these things to please God or to earn or keep our salvation. Quite the contrary. We are encouraged to do these things because we have been set free to do so.