Lent for beginners

By the time you read this we will be in the season of Lent, nevertheless I think it is worth taking some time to think about what Lent is really about and how we can make the most effective us of it.

For most people Lent is about giving things up, maybe even doing something that is charitable, such as supporting our Lent Lunches which raise funds for our three Stodden Charities (The Church Army, SEDCU, and the Bolnhurst Christian Centre). Giving things up like chocolate, or cake, or alcohol cand be good for our physical well-being, and giving to charitable causes, especially they are helping the less fortunate in society, or in the wider world, is in itself a good thing. However, we can do these things at any time, they are not specifically “Lenten”.

Lent is a Christian season, although there is a residual folk memory of it in wider society, usually expressed in the idea of “giving up biscuits for Lent”. The important part in  the last sentence is the word “Christian”; in other words “Christ-like”. To be “Christ-like” is to live a life that is Jesus Christ focused; with a desire to be like Jesus in all I do, think, say and love.

Lent evolved from the early church using the weeks running up to the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter to prepare people for baptism (Easter Sunday was the big moment for baptism, the adult baptisms would be a key part of the Early Church’s celebration of the Risen Christ). In the early church, unless households were baptized, children were rarely baptized. Most converts were adults and they were predominantly coming from a pagan background, so before baptism they needed to learn more about the Jesus that they had given their lives to at their first profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Inevitable as time went on other members of the church began to see that this “baptism preparation period” could also benefit their faith.

So from early times Lent was for Christians about spending the time running up to Easter refocusing their minds and heats back on to the Lord of their lives; Jesus of Nazareth. After all there was so much around them in Roman / Greek pagan society that could easily pull them off track, a way of life they were recently converted from. Things have not changed that much, the labels may have changed but there is still much out in society that can pull us of track in our pilgrimage of faith with Jesus.

Fasting, setting aside both food and the time then gained for prayer and reflection on Christ, became an integral part of Lent as the church grew through time; but there is a difference between “fasting” and just “giving up for Lent”, fasting is about leaving aside that which is about physical sustenance to seek sustenance in Christ through prayer, which is more that just “giving up” it is about enabling a refocusing on Jesus. For some people today fasting is a positive way to seek to draw near to Christ, but it does not necessarily work for all.

To use Lent in a positive Christian way is to use the forty days to take time out to look again at Jesus of Nazareth, so to spend time in prayer and worship, to take time to read Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels (time spent reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount is always well worth doing), or to read a Christian book on prayer or on living an authentic Christian lifestyle.

Lent is only just beginning; if you have yet to decide how you are going to use the season why not take time out for Jesus, to get closer to him, not as a historical figure but as a your living Saviour and Lord. Then you will emerge from Lent spiritually fitter with your faith renewed.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Yours in our Saviour Jesus Christ


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