One and All,
By the time you read this, it will pretty well be Lent again, and in the hopes of helping you to have a more edifying Lenten season, let me share with you a little bit about where the of Lent came from and what it means.
The modern English word, Lent, comes from the Old English word, Lencten, which simply meant, Spring. And if that word lencten sounds a lot like our word, lengthen, well, that’s probably not an accident. In fact, historians think that the word lencten originally described how the days lengthen as Spring began. So then why don’t we call still call Spring, Lent? Well, because beginning in the 14th Century people who spoke English started to refer to the season as “Springing-time,” a reference to how plants spring out of the ground at this time of year. “Springing-time” was eventually shortened to “Spring-time,” and ultimately, just to “Spring,” which left the word “Lent” referring not to the entire Spring season but rather to a 40-day liturgical season that mostly happens during the Spring. (See? Aren’t you glad you asked?)
Anyway, as you already know, Lent lasts for 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. But, if you’re the sort of person who likes counting days on the calendar (and for all I know, you may be just that kind of person) you’ll notice that you actually count 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. What gives, you ask? Well, Sundays are always considered celebration days, so the six Sundays that come up during Lent don’t count toward the 40 days, and when you subtract the six Sundays from the other 46 days, you get, well, you get 40 days, that’s what you get. And why is it 40 days, you ask? Because the 40 days of Lent were inspired by the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, that’s why.
And that fact that the 40 days of Lent were inspired by the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness should tell you something about what this season is about. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself for the beginning of his public ministry, which would culminate in his crucifixion, so do we Christians spend 40 days preparing ourselves for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Traditionally Lent has been a time of careful self-examination; for taking an honest look at one’s relationship with God and relationships with other people, and for seriously considering the sort of person one has been over the year that has passed since last Easter. Some folks also dedicate the season to giving up something they like as a spiritual discipline (for years I gave up peanut butter for Lent, which might not sound like a big deal to you, but since peanut butter is pretty much my favorite food, it was a HUGE deal for me). Other folks, instead of giving something up, take on an additional spiritual discipline for Lent, maybe spending more time in prayer, or reading the Bible, or maybe by volunteering for a good cause in their community, or something like that.
How did this season of Lent develop? Well, now that’s an interesting question. We know that many Christians kept some sort of period of preparation for Easter as far back as the middle of the 1st Century, but that those periods were of different lengths in different places. In some places people prepared for Easter by fasting for the 40 hours before the celebration of Easter, in other places people prepared for Easter over the course of two or three days, in some places the time for preparation ran for about a week. But over the course of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries this period of preparation become progressively longer, until the season of 40 days that we all know now was finally established by the Council of Nicea in 325. (By the way, the Council of Nicea also established the process by which the date for Easter is determined, and agreed on the first part of what we now call the Nicene Creed, so as Councils go, the Council of Nicea was a was a pretty big deal.)
And, as I mentioned before, one of the best ways to observe Lent is by spending extra time reading and meditating on the Bible, and to help you do that, we’re going to have a special Lent Bible Study! Our study will use the ELCA’s Daily Discipleship materials (thank you, Lutherans!) which focuses on the Gospel readings from the Lectionary. What we’ll do is focus on the Gospel reading for the coming week, so that on, say, our first meeting (which will be on March 2nd) we’ll talk about the Gospel reading for March 8th, and at our final meeting (which will be on April 6th) we’ll take a look at the Gospel reading for Easter Sunday, on April 12.
So when and where will the study meet? Well, you already know the starting and end dates, which are going to be Monday, March 2nd and Monday, April 6, and there will to meeting times—at 5:00 and at 7:00—so you can pick the time that works best for you. Finally, as for location, we’ll plan on meeting in the Lecture Room in the Church—so I’ll see you there next Monday, March 2nd, at either 5:00 or 7:00!