The season of Lent is upon us. Every year I wonder how I am going to mark the Lenten season. Sometimes I mark it more successfully than at other times. What will 2015 hold for me? I find a photo challenge online, proposed by some Methodist Church in America. I love the idea. I study the themes. I don’t see a connection between the themes and Lent except the “Celebrate” which is each Sunday’s theme (Sundays are excluded from Lent because they are feast days). I want to do something which will be spiritually meaningful to me. This particular photo challenge is probably not it.
“Lent” is a Teutonic word and it originally meant no more than the spring season, known in Afrikaans as “lente”. However it has come to mean a forty day fast preceding Easter. The Latin term is “quadragesima” (fortieth day). In Greek it is called “tessarakoste” (fortieth) and has an analogy with pentekoste (Pentecost), a Jewish festival.
Lent is not a Biblical concept, and while I find it tremendously useful to my spiritual life, I can see why many Christians are relatively unaware of Lent, or if they are aware of it, that they choose not to investigate it more fully or to ignore it in their own spiritual journeys.
By the fifth century, this forty days’ fast was a tradition of the Church yet, as today, already found with a considerable diversity of practice. (Thank goodness! I have already blogged about this extraordinary lack of ruling in a previous year.) Some people fasted with total vegetarian diets, others allowed fish, some had dry bread only, while others ate only one meal a day. The prohibition of eggs and milk led to Shrove Tuesday, and the gift of eggs for Easter.
Early writings by Church fathers hardly refer to it although the paschal fast was already established. It seems that there was a preliminary fast to Easter, not long (certainly less than a week) but quite severe in practice. By the time of the Council of Nicea (AD 325) the question was when was the proper time to celebrate it (not as simple as I have set it out here – it never is with Church Councils – because it was also confused with Pentecost, the fifty days).
The period of forty days was determined by the examples of Moses, Elias and Christ. The number of days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday is 46. If one excludes the Sundays one has 40 days.
So, with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, looming ahead of me tomorrow, how am I going to mark my own Lenten journey this year? I am not certain about the beginning of Lent, but the last few days will be spent at the Anglican parish of St Catherine in Bramley where the Rector is planning a Holy Week Arts Festival, an inaugural event which will revitalise the way people think of Easter.
I will, doubtless, report back if I make spiritual strides, staying silent if I lapse into apathy. Don’t hold your breath, some years I barely make any effort for Lent at all.