Lent: Glitter or Gold?
Published February 16, 2021Every Sunday night before evening worship I meet in my study with the middle schoolers of our church. Normally, we meet to discuss the morning sermon. That goal isn’t always achieved. As I’ve gotten to know them they have also gotten to know me. Sometimes they use that to their advantage to derail the normalcy. They have figured out that the quickest way to have a tangential conversation is to ask me theological questions. I’ve never told them — and maybe I don’t need to — but these are some of my favorite times as a pastor. In one manipulatively planned digression these middle schoolers asked me about the practice of Lent.
Over a century ago William Ingraham Kip wrote: “For some years past each return of Lent has been, we believe, regarded with additional interest.” That observation remains true today as many traditions have come to practice Lent. As Ash Wednesday — which is tomorrow — will begin another Lenten season, many of us will encounter it. In the spirit of the Apostle Paul who said: “Test everything” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21), we should stop and think biblically about the Lenten season. Is it good, bad, or neutral?
Lent is regarded by many to be one of the oldest and most important practices on the church calendar. Traces of its observance can be found in the writings of Irenaeus (d. 202), Tertullian (d. 240), and the Council of Nicea (325). Through the centuries different rules, ceremonies, rites, and liturgies have left Lent without a unified expression either individually or corporately. Nevertheless, for many, the Lenten season is a time of preparation for Easter and a practice to grow closer to God through fasting, self-denial, and repentance.