Saturday, February 16, 2013

Observing the Lenten Season

Last Sunday I took an article titled "Observing the Lenten Season" from church. That's article really helps me to know what lenten is about, what is the history of it, why should we observe it. I want to share it here. Hope it'll help you too.

Lent is the six-week period before Easter (Resurrection Sunday). These six weeks are called the "Lenten Seasons". In the Western Church tradition, Sunday is considered the day of the Resurrection and skipped over when calculating the length of Lent. Therefore, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and extends for 40 days (Sundays excluded) before Easter. The Easter Church tradition, on the other hand, does not skip over Sundays when calculating the length of the Lent. Therefore, Lent always begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Easter, and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday.

There are five things that should occur during this time period. They are the 5 R's.
  1. REFLECTION: Lent is a time to refocus and reflect on the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.
  2. REPENTANCE: In the Lenten season, self-examination is crucial. As we reflect on the cross, it should expose our pride, our self-sufficiency, and our disobedience.
  3. READINESS: Lent is a time to prepare candidates for baptism and confirmation. This season is intentionally set aside for examination, instruction, repentance, and prayer for these candidates. It is also time for readiness for all members as we prepare to observe and celebrate Passion Week.
  4. RESOLUTION: One key component of Lent is to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting. It does not necessarily have to be food, but can be anything that clutters our lives or hinders us in our relationship with God. This will vary from person to person: for some it might be TV, for others it might be shopping, etc.
  5. RENEWAL: Lent is known as a time of spiritual renewal and growth. It is a time for people to experience and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus in light of our own personal sins and unrighteousness. Focusing on Jesus, who died so that we may live, will renew our passion and our first love.
The word Lent comes from a variety of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic words meaning "spring, or a time budding with new life and hope." But for Christians, Lent is not a celebration of nature. Rather, it is a process of prayer and spiritual renewal. The Lenten season emphasizes one's need to cultivate a deeper walk with Christ through spiritual exercises and disciplines.

Originally in the 1st century, Lent was observed as a 40-hour period in keeping with the forty hours Jesus' body was in the tomb. In the 3rd century, the 40 hours evolved into a 6-day extension. These 6 days were known as the Holy Spirit (also known as Passion Week - the last week of Jesus' life on earth). Then, the 6 days grew into 36 days (36 being the tithe or a tenth of the 365 days of the year). Finally, during the reign of Charlemagne in the 8th century, 4 days were added to the 36 to create our current celebration of Lent. The added days were Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season, and the three following days, running up to the First Sunday in Lent. The forty days of Lent is a time that calls all of us to be dedicated to discipline and personal examination.

Many evangelical Christians respond to the observance of Lent by saying the following things:
  • "Why should we observe Lent? Shouldn't we always have the death and resurrection of Christ in our hearts?"
  • "Why be so legalistic? SInce we are now free in Christ, we don't need to try to live a life of self-denial."
  • "Isn't Lent more of a tradition? Shouldn't we do things more out of conviction?"
In response to those questions:

"Why should we observe lent? Shouldn't we always have the death and resurrection of Christ in our hearts?"
Setting aside special times to remember or to experience various things are good for us because we are forgetful people. Even though the death and resurrection of Christ should always be in our hearts, we forget as we try to live this life. If we use this argument, then we should not have retreats, revival meetings, or special church events. But this would be unreasonable because we need retreats. A retreat is an opportunity to set aside some special time to get away and renew our hearts with God.

"Why be so legalistic? SInce we are now free in Christ, we don't need to try to live a life of self-denial." Legalism is taking something that is "God-centered" and makin it "man-centered". Legalism is binding and puts us in bondage, while doing things (i.e. spiritual disciplines) that is God-centered is liberating and releases us to love God more. Living a life of self-denial is not only a command of Jesus (Mk 8:34-35, Lk 14:25ff), but those who practice it are truly "free in Christ": free to say "Yes" to God and "No" to the flesh and the things of this world.

"Isn't Lent more of a tradition? Shouldn't we do things more out of conviction?"
Sometimes tradition is good. For example, some of us might have a family tradition of taking vacations together every year. This is a good thing because it re-emphasizes the value of family and of one another. Tradition becomes a burdern or a strain when we lose the purpose of it. Once we lose the purpose behind things we just go through the motions, which always leads to half-heartedness. Conviction grows as we begin to pray and understand the purpose of why we do things.

In general, observing Lent will really benefit our spiritual life. It will increase our passion for God and it will bring a greater heart of thankfulness for the cross. It is expecially helpful when everything culminates to the Passion Week and we have Good Friday service and Resurrection Sunday services. We will not regret it!

Once again, this is where our freedom in Christ comes in. Everyone is different; therefore we will observe Lent in various ways. There is no one-way to do things. But there are some basic principles to remember:
  1. Resolve to intensify your commitment to God within this time period.
  2. Resolve to "fast" from something. Keep in mind that it should cost us something. What we mean by "cost" is this: if you never eat breakfast and decide to give it up for Lent, then it is not costing you anything. Try to fast from something you know that at times will be difficult to give up. Here are some examples: TV or video games, chocolates or coffee, or eating out at restaurants.
  3. Resolve to spend time deepening your walk and intimacy with God. Make a vicious commitment to read the Word and spend time in prayer.
  4. Resolve to prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday through prayer and meditation on God's word.
Some things to remember in the midst of observing Lent:
  1. Remember not to judge. Don't look down on people who are not actively observing Lent. Remember, it does not make you more spiritual. If we are not careful it can definitely lead to spiritual pride.
  2. Remember to give grace. There are times when someone you know who is fasting from something forgets and starts indulging themselves. Some things are so much of a habit that we forget. This is when we should just encourage them to keep moving forward. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)
  3. Remember not to get discouraged. If you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again (Pr 24:16)
  4. Remember to focus on Jesus. It is all about what Christ did for us on the cross. May we never forget!

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