A Bit About Lent

Luke 4:1-13

After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,’Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

A Bit about Lent

When it comes to Lent, there are generally two camps.

In one camp are folks who do not do Lent. They don’t understand what it is, what it means, or what it entails. And they don’t care. They may connect it with Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, and they would be right.

In the other camp are folks who do Lent, i.e., they give up some kind of temptation in life, the most popular culprits being sloth, chocolate, or alcohol. They may know very little about Lent, but are interested and care. They believe that Lent is connected with self-imposed deprivation, and they would be right.

What I’d like to do is draw these two camps together and fill in some of the blank spaces.

Let’s start with the word, Lent. Where does the word come from? Let me clarify up front. It has nothing to do with God putting Jesus on loan to us or lending us a period of time for which to prepare for Good Friday and Easter. It has nothing to do with money or any sort of financial arrangements. Originally, Lent was not even called Lent. It was Quadragestima, Latin for fortieth. The mother tongue of the church at that time was Latin, and Quadragestima was used to count down the forty days stretching from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of Holy Week, the seven days prior to Easter Sunday.

Why are the dates of Ash Wednesday and Easter different year to year? Here we have a perfect example of the overlap of spiritual life and natural science. We start with the Easter date, then count backwards the weekdays to Ash Wednesday. How do we determine the Easter date? Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

If you are unfamiliar with equinoxes, you are not alone. Equinoxes occur two times a year, once in the spring around March 20 and once in the fall, around September 22. At those times the sun hovers above the earth’s equator. Equinox literally means “equal night,” because the sun’s location creates a length of day and night that is nearly equal. Again, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring, that is the March 20 equinox. If the first full moon occurs on the equinox, Easter is the following Sunday. Thus, Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. Once the Easter Sunday date is established, you count backwards 40 weekdays to the Wednesday. And the dates are set.

As the church grew across countries, priests adopted the mother tongue of the people to whom they preached. For example, the Old English word for spring was Lent. And Lent originated from the German word, Lenz for lengthening, as in the lengthening of days as winter transitions into spring. With time, Quadragestima became Lent.

Lent begins in the wilderness that is winter. It is devoted to renewal and strengthening. It is a solemn time. If you want to party, get it out of your system during Mardi Gras. and then settle down for forty days of fasting, prayer, and forgiveness. It is the time to prepare for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, his subsequent arrest, torture, and execution. It is the time to become more spiritually close to God, to recognize our identity as his children and to build our emotional, psychological and spiritual strength in the face of temptation, trials and adversity. In some ways, it is a replay of the forty days and nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness tempted by Satan. That time of fasting, self-imposed deprivation and resisting of temptation prepared him to become more spiritually close to God, to recognize the strength of his identity as the son of God, and to build his emotional, psychological and spiritual muscle for what was to come.

There is a powerful prayer attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas and it goes like this, “Inscribe your Holy name, Oh Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly imprinted that no adversity, no prosperity can ever remove me from your love. Be unto me a tower of defense in danger, a light in the darkness, a comfort in distress and a faithful guide through this life filled with temptation and trials.”

St. Thomas Aquinas understood life and temptation, and he understood Lent. Lent prepares us for Good Friday, yes. Ultimately, it prepares us for life, and the trials and temptations we will surely encounter. May God give us a strong Lent to secure us in our baptismal identity, just as it did for our Christ Jesus in that dark night of Gethsemane’s despair.

3 thoughts on “A Bit About Lent”

  1. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article!

    It’s the little changes that will make the greatest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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