Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Lent was started early within the Christian movement and became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday (it is Valentine’s Day this year making Lent the season of the heart), Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent, in the past, was marked by fasting, both from food and festivities and many people still carry on this ritual.
The number 40 is a significant number in Jewish-Christian scripture. In Genesis, the flood was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. Most Christians regard Jesus' time in the wilderness as the key event for the duration of Lent.
Lent is an old English word meaning 'lengthen'. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer. Purple is the symbolic color used in some churches throughout Lent, for drapes and altar cloths. Purple is used for two reasons: firstly because it is associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and secondly because purple is the color associated with royalty, and celebrates Christ's resurrection and sovereignty.
In modern times (not sure what that term means), Lent has been defined by doing something extra in your life – maybe you use meditation (not medication), or some other spiritual practice; maybe you do something extra in charitable works (actually, no reason to stop this activity just because Lent ends – life doesn’t end!).
We sometimes make a commitment to do something and then it falls by the wayside to reside with your New Year’s resolutions. Pretty crowded by the wayside! But even doing something small – calling an elderly neighbor or visiting them once a week (or more often) to make sure they are okay. Working at a food shelf is a great thing to do. So many things to do and so little time!
As we start the new year and, in the liturgy, as we mark time toward Easter, we are reminded that Jesus has called us to something higher than the world would expect of us. The season of Lent is a reminder of that calling. Be at peace, love God and love your neighbor!
Rev. John Sanborn