40 Days of Lent: Preparing Hearts for Resurrection Sunday

In 2020, most of our family decided to participate in Lent. For 2 weeks, I gave up sweets and the kids gave up some favorite toys. This year, we decided to do 40 days (no Sunday’s off) and my husband participated too. We all gave up electronic entertainment – no tv, movies, tablets, video games and some social media. But first, what are Lent and Ash Wednesday? What is the history? Why did we decide to participate?

“Just as we set aside time to spiritually prepare for Christmas Day, it makes sense to set aside time to prepare for the two most important days of the Christian year. Lent is a time that offers us an opportunity to come to terms with the human condition we may spend the rest of the year running from and it brings our need for a Savior to the forefront. Like Advent, Lent is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper, so that when Good Friday and eventually Easter comes, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing of grace God has to offer.” (Crosswalk.com, “What is Lent? 40 Day Meaning & Traditions)

What are Ash Wednesday and Lent?

“Each year, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day season (not counting Sundays) marked by repentance, fasting, reflection, and ultimately celebration. The 40-day period represents Christ’s time of temptation in the wilderness, where he fasted and where Satan tempted him. Lent asks believers to set aside a time each year for similar fasting, marking an intentional season of focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.” (Christianity.com “What is Ash Wednesday? Why Christians Celebrate it”)

Matthew 4:1-2 (NIV)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

“Often called the Day of Ashes, Ash Wednesday starts Lent by focusing the Christian’s heart on repentance and prayer, usually through personal and communal confession. This happens during a special Ash Wednesday service.

During Mass (for Catholics) or worship service (for Protestants), the priest or pastor will usually share a sermon that is penitential and reflective in nature. The mood is solemn – many services will have long periods of silence and worshipers will often leave the service in silence.

Usually, there is a responsive passage of Scripture, usually centered around confession, read aloud about the leader and congregation. Attendees will experience communal confession, as well as moments where they are prompted to silently confess sins and pray.

After all of this, the congregation will be invited to receive the ashes on their foreheads. Usually, as the priest or pastor will dip his finger into the ashes, spread them in a cross pattern on the forehead, and say, “From dust you came and from dust you will return.”

In many congregations, the ashes are prepared by burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, churches bless and hand out palm branches to attendees, a reference to the Gospels’ account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when onlookers lay palm branches on his path.

The ashes of this holiday symbolize two main things: death and repentance. “Ashes are equivalent to dust, and human flesh is composed of dust or clay (Genesis 2:7), and when a human corpse decomposes, it returns to dust or ash.”

“When we come forward to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are saying that we are sorry for our sins, and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy” (The CatholicSpirit.com).

With this focus on our own mortality and sinfulness, Christians can enter into the Lent season solemnly, while also looking forward in greater anticipation and joy of the message of Easter and Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death.” (Christianity.com “What is Ash Wednesday? Why Christians Celebrate it”)

Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

History

“The history and beginnings of Lent aren’t clear. According to Britannica.com, Lent has likely been observed “since apostolic times, though the practice was not formalized until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.” Christian scholars note that Lent became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. St. Irenaeus, Pope St. Victor I, and St. Athanasius all seem to have written about Lent during their ministries. Most agree that “by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.”” (Christianity.com “What is Ash Wednesday? Why Christians Celebrate it”)

Which Churches Observe Lent?

“Catholic, Orthodox, and many (but not all) Protestants appreciate and observe Lent. Though Lent is not named or observed in the Bible, as Christianity Today notes, “the path of Lent—prayer, fasting, and generosity over a period of time—is heavily emphasized by the authors of and characters in the Bible, including Jesus. The Bible commands a lifestyle of worship and devotion that looks considerably like Lent. Therefore, while the word is absent in the Bible, the reality of Lent is woven throughout the whole of Scripture, as we have discovered.”” (Christianity.com “What is Ash Wednesday? Why Christians Celebrate it”)

One of the neat facets of Lent is it can bring together people from several christian denominations. My husband has several Catholic coworkers and they have been able to discuss their Lent experiences. God never meant for us to be divided – that is the work of Satan! We love looking for ways to bring together the body of Christ!

Why Do Some Reject It?

The Gospel Coalition shared an interesting article on this subject:

“Some younger evangelicals appreciate Lent as an opportunity to implement a spiritual discipline that has a long history within the various wings of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestants observe this time of reflection).

Other evangelicals believe Lent has the potential of leading us back into the bondage of perpetual penitence and rituals common to Catholicism, to which the Reformers rightly reacted.

Some say it’s a historical practice with spiritual benefits. Others say evangelicals have historically rejected it because of its potential excesses.” (The Gospel Coalition, “Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent”)

Looking at History

“The truth is, history is on both sides and on neither side.

Yes, plenty of Christians through the years have engaged in some sort of Lenten fast, but the idea that we are “connecting with our roots” by practicing Lent voluntarily is only half the story. For many of our forefathers, Lent wasn’t optional; it was enforced. If you tell me I have to observe Lent by only eating certain foods, I’m going with Zwingli to eat a nice round of sausages on Friday, thank you much.

And yes, plenty of Christians through the years have rejected any kind of Lenten fast as “Romish popery,” but the idea that we’re standing in the shoes of our Protestant forefathers in rejecting Lent is only half the story. Plenty of Puritans banned Christmas, Easter, and any special Sunday, but I don’t see many people today taking a saw to the church’s Christmas tree.

I see Lent as an exercise that can be helpful or harmful – like many spiritual disciplines. So here are a few suggestions for those who practice and those who refrain.” (The Gospel Coalition, “Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent”)

If You Do Lent…

“First, I would caution my friends who engage in Lenten practices to not give off the impression that their brothers and sisters who refrain are “missing out.” If a season of Lent were that important to spiritual growth, the apostles would have recommended it. It is not unreasonable to remember the track record of how Christians have sometimes allowed these seasons to get out of hand by making them into a new law – as Paul himself made clear (Colossians 2:16, where the apostle’s conversation isn’t about Lent, although the principle still applies).

Secondly, in an attempt to “reconnect with our roots,” there’s the possibility of offending a weaker brother who found their former Catholicism or Anglicanism or whatever high-church tradition they were a part of to be life-draining, rather than life-giving. My Baptist friends in Romania are not going to fast around Easter or Christmas precisely because it is associated with a cultural, lifeless Christianity they see in the state church. More power to them. No one should stumble over a fast.

If You Don’t Do Lent…

For my friends who have an aversion to anything like Lent, don’t impugn the motives of those who have found spiritual benefit in setting aside a time of the year for reflection on Christ’s passion. To imply that Lent is a “Catholic thing” misses the rich Protestant history of the practice, and rejecting it for this reason ironically puts Rome front and center, with all of us just positioning ourselves in reference to the Roman Catholic Church. To forbid the practice can be just as detrimental as demanding it.” (The Gospel Coalition, “Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent”)

Why We Decided to Participate

Even though the protestant church I attend does not participate in Lent (or any liturgical calendar), I knew for my own family, I wanted us to have some idea of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is no small thing – however if we don’t get our hearts and minds ready for it, we can miss the significance of that mind-blowing day. Our family participates in Advent to get our hearts ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus and I knew we were really missing something at Easter.

Easter is not about egg hunts or easter baskets. We want our kids to keep Jesus and His miraculous resurrection to be the focus of our celebrations. I came across other women in my homeschool coop (which is composed of families from many christian denominations) and saw that several of them participate in Lent. And the Bible app I use has many Lent devotionals and I realized that this was what I was looking for. A solemn, penitent time for my family to take intentional actions – and to join with millions of other Christians across the globe – to prepare ourselves for the miraculous, joyous Resurrection Sunday.

How Was Giving Up Electronics?

Our electronic usage had gotten out of hand, so we knew we needed to take a break. I was also interested to see what would come out of our extra free time!

Week 1: We are all having some withdrawal pains from not having access to some of our favorite types of entertainment. The girls are walking around the house saying I am so bored! I want the TV! However it never lasts long before they find something to do. They have created a lot of art, made new doll houses, spent more time with play-doh and games. My oldest is loving all the extra family time. They have also spent more time reading, playing piano, playing outside, and calling friends on the phone. I have been reading illustrated versions of Oliver Twist and Little Women out loud to the family. We have illustrated copies of some of the other classics – The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and White Fang next on the list.

I have been rereading some favorite books. (If you haven’t read the Francine Rivers Trilogy, Mark of the Lion, I highly recommend you check it out! Anything by Francine Rivers is phenomenal.) I am also spending more time getting stuff done around the house (taxes completed!) and writing. But I’ll be honest with you – I really miss the TV in the evenings! Something that helped us was Sam unplugged (or hid) all the electronics – so it’s not so easy to try and access them.

Sam has been reading more, spending more time playing with the kids, and getting in more sleep. Sam really misses video games in the evenings!

Week 2: We went on a 4 day family trip. Our family missed electronics on the drive to our destination and on the vacation, but we survived. Our youngest kids did a lot more fighting and whining without having movies to distract them, but Sam and I (mostly Sam haha) was really focused on staying on track with our fast.

Week 3: We still miss electronics! Especially in the evenings! At least the weather has been nice and we have all been spending more time outdoors.

Conclusion

Lent is completely optional! Whether you participate or not, be sure to prepare the hearts of you and your family for the miraculous, sacrificial, love and grace filled Resurrection Sunday. Jesus was perfect, blameless, and without sin – yet He endured so much for us. We are completely filled with sin and imperfect in every single way. If you haven’t already, won’t you give yourself to God? Invite Him into your life and ask forgiveness of your sins (we all have them)! It will be the best decision you ever make.

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