Full Newssheet: February 19
This week Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is regarded as 40 days long from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Count the days and you will find its more than forty because Sundays are left out.
It is a time when many Christians will prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. There is nothing in the bible, as such, about Lent. The idea of forty days comes from Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he begins his public ministry (Mark 1.13).
It is difficult to exactly date when the period of Lent first started to be observed. Irenaeus (d 203ad) mentions it in some of his writings when he comments on the celebration of Easter. The writings from the Council of Nicea in 325AD (a gathering of church leaders to work through a whole range of issues) clearly see the 40 day period of Lent as a regular event on the church calendar, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.
Lent is a great tradition of the church as it focuses on Christ and his death and resurrection.
As with any tradition we must be careful. Jesus and his disciples were hounded by the Pharisees for not carrying out a ceremonial washing of hands (Matt 15.1-10). Jesus critically replies to them (Matt 15.8-9) quoting from Isaiah:
8“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”
At the heart of Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees is that in following the “traditions taught by men” they lost sight of God and following him.
With any of our traditions, as good as they might be, we too must heed this warning!
Your brother in Christ