This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent, one of the most important seasons of the Christian year. But unlike Advent, which has some similar themes of preparation, the observance of Lent has a particular history and some variety in practices between different traditions in Christianity. So I thought I’d review some answers to common questions that often come up about Lent, and hope to see you Sunday as our Lenten journey gets underway!

What is Lent?

In the early Christian church (starting about the 4th century), Lent was developed primarily as a period of preparation for people seeking to be baptized into the Christian faith. This is why Lent was characterized by themes and practices of repentance, fasting, self-examination, prayer, Bible study, and so on.

People would then be baptized on Holy Saturday and take Communion for the first time as part of the Easter celebrations. By the end of the first millennium, when most people were born into the Christian faith, this practice began shifting to be an act of general repentance and spiritual reflection and renewal for the entire church.

What do Presbyterians think about Lent?

Presbyterians are part of the Reformed tradition, the stream of theology and church life that originated in the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Geneva, led by John Calvin.  Calvin and his followers were suspicious of many of the new practices that had emerged in the medieval Catholic Church, and Lent was no exception.

In particular, they felt that many of the observances of Lent had less to do with deepening one’s own faith and more to do with a sort of spiritual competition to demonstrate one’s holiness (especially compared to others). They also disliked the idea of making such observances mandatory, because they felt that this encouraged formal obedience without spiritual commitment. So they argued that if one chose to observe Lent, one should do so in a way that was both voluntary and focused on deepening your own practice and understanding of the faith.

What should I give up for Lent?

Actually, Presbyterians have not historically encouraged “giving something up for Lent,” mainly because of the concerns described in the previous question. However, we haven’t specifically opposed it, either. Rather, we have emphasized “taking something up for Lent”: engaging in deeper spiritual disciplines and practices such as additional Bible study, worship, and prayer; acts of service; additional giving; and so on. Practices such as these go directly to enriching one’s own faith, and continue to be the heart of Lenten practice for Presbyterians.

Okay, how is the church going to help me “take something up for Lent,” then?

I’m glad you asked! In addition to the regular ministries of education that the church offers, here is a way we are trying to support your Lenten disciplines: we are doing a special mid-week series throughout Lent that would be a great opportunity for you to use in taking on an additional spiritual discipline. Each Wednesday during Lent, we will have a program and a simple supper from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall. See more details below. I hope you can make that part of your Lenten discipline!

Grace and Peace,