Today is Ash Wednesday, which means that Christians all over the world are beginning the observance of Lent 2020, a 40-day season (not counting six feast days) of fasting that leads up to Easter. You might be totally unfamiliar with Lent—or even suspicious of it—but there are still excellent reasons to observe it…and plenty of creative ways to do so!
“I can say that my experience of intentionally walking through Lent has given me an annual spiritual check-up,” says Greg Goebel in his article, “What Is Lent and How Should I Observe It?” “It has given me a time when I have been able to ask God to show me my sins and flaws…And after about 10 years of Lent, I felt that I finally began to see how much God was showing me his total love and grace.”
Why Observe Lent 2020?
Lent is a season in the Christian liturgical calendar that anticipates Jesus’ resurrection and falls between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Other seasons in the Christian calendar include Advent, Christmas, and Easter. The roots of Lent go back to the practices of Christian converts in the early church, who would fast in preparation for being baptized on Easter morning. Eventually, Lent became associated with Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.
It is common for modern Christians to choose something to fast from during Lent, whether a type of food, a habit, or some other comfort. Participants can break their fast on Sundays, which are “feast days” that foreshadow Easter.
There are a number of reasons why Christians can be skeptical about the benefits of observing Lent. Some Protestants look down on Lent because they associate it with Catholicism. But Trevin Wax points out that it would be incorrect to assume that Lent does not have a rich history apart from the Catholic church. It would also be wrong to assume that every ritual the Reformers or other Protestants have thrown out was inherently problematic.
Another reason people don’t practice Lent is that the Bible does not prescribe it. A related concern is that following Lent could result in legalism or in following empty rituals. It is true that Lent is not in the Bible, and it would in fact be legalistic to make people feel as though they had to observe it in order to honor God. But as Pastor Glenn Packiam says, “Then again, you don’t need to have a date night with your wife; you don’t need to have family vacations. But rhythms and routines are ways of reinforcing a desire.”
Anything can become an empty ritual, notes Goebel, even practices that do not seem ritualistic. He writes, “I grew up in a very free flowing, non-denominational church. Yet there were certain praise songs, or local practices and emphasis that became very common and rote. Legalism and rote-ness are not inherently bound up in any tradition. They come from within our own hearts.”
Consider also the fact that even though the Bible does not command believers to follow Lent, it does assume the practice of fasting, which seems to be a lost discipline in the evangelical world. Done with the right attitude, fasting is a way for Christians to willingly deny themselves something good (whether food or otherwise) in order to seek and “feast” on God in a more focused way. And Lent in particular is an opportunity to join the global church in pursuing a deeper understanding of our relationship with Jesus.
Creative Ways to Fast for Lent 2020
Fasting often falls into different categories, observes Ben Sternke, and the Catholic and Anglican churches have each made specific suggestions to the members of their denominations. Pope Francis has recommended that for Lent 2020, people give up damaging words. He said, “We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are amplified by the internet. Today, people insult each other as if they were saying ‘Good Day.’”
The Church of England has suggested that for Lent 2020, people focus on caring for God’s creation. To that end, the church has developed an app called #LiveLent. Those who sign up for it will receive a daily reflection, Scripture reading, and prayer, as well as a specific daily challenge pertaining to that goal.