Earlier this week, Christians worldwide celebrated Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of a time-honored tradition known as Lent. As old as the Nicene Creed, Lent is meant to bring Christians closer to Christ by imitating Jesus’s 40-day fast in the wilderness. However, in America, its celebration is at an all-time low, with a staggering 76% of Americans saying that they do not observe Lent. This is surprising considering that a Pew Research poll found that the United States had the largest Christian population globally. This begs the question, what is Lent, and why should we participate?
Lent is an ancient Christian practice that lasts 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter. The tradition itself consists of three key elements. The first and central element of Lent is fasting. During Lent, Christians forswear distractions and other worldly things that might hinder their connection to God. Another critical element of a Lent fast is that it is not meant to be a fast from wickedness. For example, a Christian who enjoys watching movies might declare a fast from movies. Alternatively, they could fast from video games, reading, types of food, really anything that one holds dear. Not because any of these activities are inherently evil. On the contrary, they are relatively harmless. However, the point of the 40 day fast is to spend time reading the Word or doing something to honor God and remind us of the love and sacrifice of Christ.
This leads us to the following core tenet of Lent, prayer. Christians are called to spend the extra time from their fast with God in prayer, and more specifically, in repentance. A common occurrence on Ash Wednesday, for example, is for ministers to place a cross of ashes upon the forehead of the believers. This is to signal our acknowledgment of our fallen nature and our desire for forgiveness in the sight of God.
Finally, the last element of Lent is charity or almsgiving. The point of the first two elements of Lent is to help us remember that we need to put God first and need repentance. The third element is meant to be an expression of gratitude towards God and his mercy. For it is by His mercy all Christians have been forgiven their sins. In gratitude for this act of mercy and grace, Lent calls us to give just as generously and mercifully, expecting nothing in return. That is the true purpose of Lent. To bring us closer to Christ by sharing sacrifice with Him. Lent brings Christians all over the world closer to God, and that is why I encourage Christians everywhere to participate.