“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting fortys day and forty nights, he was hungry.”
Matthew 4:1-2 (NIV)
Growing up, every year my family celebrated Lent. In practice, this meant that we abstained from eating meat on Fridays (yay, pizza night!) and we committed to giving something up for the 40 days before Easter Sunday. Emulating my mother, I usually gave up my favorite treat: chocolate! Then on Easter morning, I would run downstairs and tear into an Easter basket that had been magically delivered overnight by a mysterious, giant, bunny. When I got older and re-engaged with my faith, I began to wonder what Lent really is and why it’s celebrated by believers all over the world.
Although the Lenten season may have different starting and ending dates each year and may entail a number of different traditions based on denomination or culture, the point is the same. The intention of Lent is to emulate Jesus, acknowledge his sacrifice and to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lent is an opportunity to come face to face with our own sin and recognize our deep need for Jesus. It is a time to change our routine so we can become more aware of our temptation to live independently from God.
Some people do this by praying and fasting just like Jesus did in the wilderness. Meanwhile, other Christians celebrate Lent by being more generous and giving over and above what they normally give. Some volunteer more frequently or do random acts of kindness to illustrate Christ-like love for others. All of these things ultimately point back to Jesus and his amazing, sacrificial love for us.
Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV) says that “..because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved”.
While many consider Lent to be a solemn time for reflection and deep prayer, it is also a time of anticipation and great joy. One of things that I noticed about my own family’s Lent traditions is that they built up excitement. We eagerly anticipated Easter -- and why shouldn’t we? After all, the resurrection is the most significant event in human history. Jesus’ sacrifice is the reason that we are able to boldly approach the throne; it’s why we are free and forgiven. What is more joyous than that?