Today is Ash Wednesday. For some Christians, it’s just another day. For others it is the beginning of the most “somber” season in the life of the church. I thought I’d share a little bit of the history, how it’s practiced today, and a few of my own thoughts.
Lent: The History
Since I was little, I always knew that “Lent is the season leading up to Easter Sunday.” I also heard somewhere along the line that you should “give something up” for Lent.
Not exactly history. (I had to do a little research prepping for this post.)
Some have thought Lent was established by the apostles in the years following Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Officially, nothing was mentioned about Lent until Irenaeus of Lyons (in Western Europe) and Tertullian (in Northern Africa) talked about it in the latter part of the 2nd Century. And here’s the kicker: Lent was only 40 hours…not 40 days!
Dionysius (from Alexandria) stretched that out to six days in the 3rd Century. It wasn’t until the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) that the length was officially locked in at 40 days.
Now, you might be saying, Hold on! Lent starts today. It’s supposed to be 40 days. And Easter is 46 days away. Time for some math lessons!
That has to do with not counting the six Sundays. Easter is also known as Resurrection Sunday. Each Sunday during Lent is a “mini resurrection Sunday” where we celebrate the anticipation of Jesus’s resurrection. That’s also why many who fast – or “give something up” – don’t do so on Sundays during Lent.
So where did “fasting” or “giving something up” come into play? Glad you asked…
The idea is this: During the 40 days leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection, we intentionally take time to remember and experience (in a tiny way by comparison) what He sacrificed and suffered. Not only what Jesus sacrificed on the cross, but also remembering the 40 days where He fasted (and was tempted by Satan) in the desert. These 40 days were in between when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and when He began His public ministry.