What is Lent and why do we observe it? Isn’t it just for Catholics? Do you have to give something up? Did Jesus practice Lent? 

All of these are questions I’ve heard in the last few weeks of children and youth choir practices. I think that often, we go through the motions of what we’ve been raised in without really understanding WHY we do it and what it means. For me, liturgy and the liturgical year (the progression from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday to Lent to Holy Week and finally to Easter) gained much more meaning when someone took the time to explain to me the *why* and not just the when. Does Lent really mean anything to us if we just give up coffee for 40 days? Does Good Friday really resonate with us if we don’t understand why the sanctuary is bare and why we leave in silence? 

The practice of observing Lent by the Christian church originated in the fourth century A.D. shortly after the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It began as a time of preparation for candidates of baptism (baptism only occurred on Easter day!) and a time of penance and preparation for reunification of those who had committed such terrible sins that they had been separated from the church. As a sign of their penitence, they wore sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes. This form of public penance began to die out in the 9th century. It became customary for all the faithful to be reminded of the need for penitence and of their own mortality by receiving a cross of ashes on their foreheads on the first day of Lent—hence the name Ash Wednesday. Lent continues for 40 days – excluding the six Sundays in Lent, which lead us to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 

So, to answer the initial questions, we observe Lent as a way to renew our relationship with God and admit our faults and sins as we prepare for the joyous Resurrection of Easter. Lent isn’t just for Catholics; it is for anyone in the priesthood of believers (i.e., all of us!) You don’t have to give something up in a material sense, but perhaps in a spiritual sense it is when we give our confessions and wrongdoings up to God and observe our spiritual practices and relationships. And, while Jesus did not observe Lent as a faithful Jew, he certainly calls us to draw closer to him as he journeys in the desert on his way to Jerusalem. In the remaining 28 days of Lent, I invite you examine how and why you do or don’t observe Lent and if there are any areas of your life that could use a spiritual tidying up as we prepare to welcome the return of joy on Easter.