Throughout the Bible, God tells His people to remember, remember, remember. In the books of the Law (Leviticus and Deuteronomy) God commanded that the people have feast days to remember. The Passover, the Feast of Shelters, the Day of Atonement, and many other special days were in their annual calendar to remember the great and mighty Jehovah God who delivered them from Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, and led them safely to the Promised Land. He told the Israelites to build a monument with rocks when they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land to remember.
In the New Testament, our blessed Savior told us to remember - remember his sacrifice of His blood and body poured our because of our sins and for our salvation. Every time we observe the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember. We eat His body and drink His blood.
The early church from 100-300AD developed new ways to remember the cost and sacrifice of our Lord on the cross. For most of these centuries, the church met in secret because of persecutions from the Roman emperors. They met in houses in small groups. New believers waited until Easter Sunday to be baptized. A vigil was held on Easter Eve consisting of prayer and fasting. At dawn, they were baptized - sometimes immersed and sometimes sprinkled and sometimes water was poured over them. It all depended on the availability of water and the fact that to openly practice baptism meant great risk of persecution and even death.
By 300AD, the empire became sympathetic and later supported the Christian faith. The first church building was built during the first part of this century. Another innovation in Christian practice came about during this period when the Easter Eve vigil of waiting for the dawn of Resurrection Morning was extended to a week and later to the forty days which became our Lenten season.
Lent comes from a root meaning “lengthen.” What happens during the Spring? The days lengthen. Lent is in the spring when the days grow longer. The Easter Eve vigil was lengthened to a week and the week was lengthened to forty days which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter not including Sundays.
Why forty days? Forty days is significant in the Bible. Noah stayed on the ark for forty days and nights. Joseph was mourned for forty days after his death. Moses was on Mt. Sinai forty days and nights receiving the Ten Commandments and the Law. Jesus was tested in the desert wilderness for forty days and forty nights. And finally, Jesus appeared on earth after His resurrection for forty days and then ascended into heaven.
So, the early church and their leaders, known as the early church Fathers, chose forty days before Easter as a period of fasting, prayer, penitence, and sacrifice to REMEMBER! This in some way helps us to identify and make us one with the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NIV). Thus during Lent, we participate in the sufferings of Christ through self-denial, prayer, fasting, penitence, and sacrifice.
HOW TO OBSERVE LENT
Here are suggestions on how to observe Lent.
Turn the television off one or more nights during the season of Lent. Use this time to read the Bible and pray alone and/or with your partner, spouse, children, and/or grandchildren.
Eat bread and drink water one or more nights a week.
Fast one meal, two meals, or all day one or more days during the week. Some will fast for the entire period during Lent. During Ramadan, the Muslims fast for breakfast and lunch. Shouldn’t we, who are followers of the true Savior, do as much?
Some give up meat during Lent or other such food or drink.
Some practice abstinance from sexual relations.
Some give sacrificially to the church during Lent. They may give up going out to eat and give the savings to the church. Others refuse to buy things that they don’t really need and give those savings to the Lord. There are many ways to give sacrificially to the Lord.
There are many ways to observe Lent. Your limit is the limit of your imagination to give up something or things important to you to remember the sufferings of Christ and move into an almost mystic relationship of love, prayer, and service to our Lord.
A WORD ABOUT FASTING
I am a diabetic and food is a part of my protocol which ideally is diet, exercise, and insulin. Many have medical problems that will not allow total fasting for the forty day period or even for a few days.
However, I can maintain proper glucose levels with a liquid diet. Believe it or not, a person can gain weight on a liquid diet of fruit juices, milk, eggnog, and other liquids. And of course, you can get your vegetable exchange drinking tomato juice or V-8 juice. A liquid diet might be an alternative for those with medical issues. If you are unsure of using this method, check with your doctor.
WATER - THE WELL SPRING OF GOOD HEALTH
During a fast whether it is for a day, a week, or for the forty days, it is important to drink plenty of water. Water is your body's principal chemical component, making up, on average, 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues. Water leads to increased energy levels. The most common cause of daytime fatigue is actually mild dehydration. Drinking adequate amounts of water can decrease the risk of certain types of cancers, including colon cancer, bladder cancer, and breast cancer. Many experts say one should consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
Drinking water also curbs hunger. Instead of that snack before bed, during Lent, drink an 8 ounce glass of water. Drinking the right amount of water for you each day is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most effective ways to keep you and your body happy, healthy, and productive. Thus, water is an important part of our well-being and especially so when you fast.
Isn’t it interesting that when we choose to give up food during Lent to identify and remember the sufferings of Christ, that we also are practicing good health when food is replaced it with water and liquids? That’s true with all of the principles of Scripture which call for self-denial.
FASTING AND FEASTING
Food plays an important part in our lives and in our lives as Christians. In the Old Testament festivals like the Feast of Shelters and the Passover, there was a period of fasting and prayer in the ritual as well as a wonderful time of feasting.
We American Christians love the feasting part of our faith and community. There’s nothing better than a covered dish dinner after church or meeting on Wednesday nights for food and fellowship. We love the feast, but we are not to keen on the fast.
The Season of Lent is not all fasting and sacrificing. Sundays are not counted in the calendar of Lent. Sundays are a Feast Day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. This is a beautiful reminder of why we worship on Sundays and the significance to us as believers how important this day of worship, rest, celebration, and remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ is to our faith and life in the community of faith - the church.
Self-sacrifice from Monday through Saturday during Lent leads to the celebration of Sunday. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross leads to His Resurrection and the new life He gives to those who believe in Him. Sacrifice to celebration. Death to life. Lent - it’s a beautiful thing and helps us to grow in the faith and knowledge of our Lord!
A PRAYER FOR LENT
God, heavenly Father, look upon me and hear my prayer during this holy Season of Lent. By the good works You inspire, help me to discipline my body and to be renewed in spirit.
Without You, I can do nothing. By Your Spirit help me to know what is right and to be eager in doing Your will. Teach me to find new life through penance. Keep me from sin, and help me live by Your commandment of love.
God of love, bring me back to You. Send Your Spirit to make me strong in faith and active in good works. May my acts of penance bring me Your forgiveness, open my heart to Your love, and prepare me for the coming feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Lord, during this Lenten Season nourish me with Your word of life and make me one with You in love and prayer.
Father, our source of life, I reach out with joy to grasp Your hand; let me walk more readily in Your ways. Guide me in Your gentle mercy, for left to myself I cannot do Your Will.
Father of love, source of all blessings, help me to pass from my old life of sin to the new life of grace. Prepare me for the glory of Your Kingdom.
I ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever. Amen.