LENT – a time of preparation and fasting
What happens during Lent?
Lent is a special time in the Church’s calendar that takes place each spring in the run up to Easter. It begins in either late February or early March with Ash Wednesday.
Lent lasts for 40 days (not including Sundays) and ends the day before Easter Sunday, on Holy Saturday. It is a solemn time when Christians remember how Jesus spent 40 days and nights alone in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil. Jesus used this time to prepare for His work by fasting and praying. You can read about this in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
Christians spend the 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter Day. They set aside time to think about whether they are living in a way that makes God happy. They will ask for God’s forgiveness for the times they mess up, and for his help to live in the way that he wishes. Christians specially remember all that Jesus did for each of them when he died on the cross on the first Good Friday. They also remember how he overcame sin and death by rising from death on the first Easter Sunday.
Many Christians during Lent will give up eating certain foods or other luxuries, to help them concentrate on God. This is also a reminder of the fact that Jesus did not eat for the forty days that he was in the wilderness. Many Christians will also set aside whole days of fasting and praying.
Fasting has been practiced for centuries within many different cultures and religions. The Christian tradition has its roots within the Jewish culture as found in the Old Testament. In one example Queen Esther calls upon the Jewish nation to come together in prayer and fasting,
‘Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.’ (Esther 4).
For Christians fasting and prayer often go hand in hand,
‘Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.’ (Acts 14)
Christians believe that the purpose of fasting is to take a person’s focus away from the things of the world and onto God. Fasting and prayer is believed to be a way a person gains a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. Fasting should never be used in order for a person to boast about their superior spirituality but it should be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’