Lent, which started last Wednesday (known as Ash Wednesday), and ends on the Saturday preceding Easter, is a period of six weeks or 40 days that recalls the events leading to and including Jesus’ death on the cross.
Derived from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, Lent can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then taking away those things that hinder corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and service to Him. It is marked with meditation, penitence, self-denial and spiritual discipline geared towards growth and total transformation into the likeness of Christ.
The six Sundays in the Lenten period (referred to as Sundays in Lent) are not included in the counting of the 40 days of Lent because the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated every Sunday, which has delineated Sundays as no-fasting days. This indicates that the basic Lenten discipline is fasting, which lasts exactly 40 days of the period and takes after the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Lent is a prescribed time of fasting, both from food and festivities. It is a “low” period.
The biblical practice of fasting dates back to the Old Testament. It was observed on the Day of Atonement. The Jewish leaders subsequently appointed additional fasting days to remember specific times of stress in Israel’s national history (cf. Zech. 7:3-5; 8:19). In addition, the rabbis increased the times of fasting twice a week, on Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12) because it was believed that Moses respectively went up and came down Mt. Sinai on Thursday and Monday.
Fasting is not specifically commanded in the NT. But it was expected at the appropriate time for Jesus’ disciples (cf. Matt. 6:16, 17; 9:15; Luke 5:35). Jesus set the precedence Himself (cf. Matt. 4:2). The earliest church also fasted (cf. Acts 13:2-3; 14:23; 2Cor. 6:5; 11:27).
The Lenten Fast is act of abstinence and self-denial from worldly pleasures, in order to give Christians purposeful time for prayer, repentance and focus on gratitude. It is refraining from food for spiritual purposes and edification. Fasting helps us practice saying “no” to our desires and saying, “yes” to the will and directives of God. It is a spiritual discipline to deepen communion with God. Fasting is joined with prayers as spiritual practice and disciplines to deepen our trust and reliance on God for all things.
The spiritual motive and purpose for Christian fasting must be to draw closer to God. As John Piper, in his book, “A Hunger for God”, puts it: “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God, but also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.”
The ash, which is applied on our foreheads, as we begin Lent reminds us of our mortality and, so, where we should lay our treasures and heart. It also symbolises mourning, repentance and commitment to God. The Divine call for Lenten observance is: “…Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning,” Joel 2:12.
• The Venerable (Dr.) Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba, FIMC, CMC, is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State. https://ibrucentre.org. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)