Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. The day in the Church calendar that indicates the first day of Lent. For Lent I am giving up Mountain Dew. For those of you that know me, that is a big deal...I love Mountain Dew! I actually believe it to be the nectar of heaven. Before you call me crazy or say "about time" hear me out, there is a method to the madness. Below is an excerpt from a post from my good friend, Glenn Packiam about the history and purpose of Lent that will help give meaning to this oft overlooked tradition.
HOW DID LENT BEGIN?
In the Old Testament both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (I Kings 19:7) seem to have had 40-day periods of fasting for the purpose of devoting undivided attention to God, preparing them for a special work. Jesus, on the precipice of beginning His ministry, fasted for 40 days in the wilderness where He was tested and proved ready to begin. As a result, when the church leaders in the mid-2nd century were preparing candidates for baptism, they required the candidates to undergo a 40-day period of reflection, examination, and preparation before they were baptized on Easter morning. As early as the turn of the 3rd century there began to be a more formalized period of repentance and reflection before Easter as evidenced by one of St. Iraneus's letters to the pope, though it seemed to last 40 hours rather than 40 days. The various ways of observing Lent became more homogenous after Christianity became legalized in the early 4th century, and even more so after the Council of Nicea in 325AD, making it the 40-day period we are now familiar with. It was Pope Gregory the Great in the early 7th century who moved Lent from beginning on a Sunday to begin on a Wednesday (called Ash Wednesday) so that the Sundays during the Lenten season could be mini-Easters, or mini-feast days.
WHAT'S THE PURPOSE FOR LENT?
The purpose of Lent is prayer, self-examination and repentance, sacrifices and acts of service in preparation for Easter. It's main components, historically, have been fasting and prayer. Like any other occasion of fasting, the goal is to let go of things in our lives that are not inherently harmful or destructive in order to give our attention to Christ in a special way. It is a letting go of the good for the sake of the laying hold of the best that Christ has offered. For the great part of church history, Lent has been about dietary restrictions, with Sundays being the "feast days" where you get a brief reprieve.
It is a way to "know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings"(Phil. 3:10-11), to share in it with Him, so that we might experience the life, the resurrection, of Easter in a fresh way. It is a way of preparing us to live in perpetual Easter-- the life of Christ springing up anew in us as we lay down and let go of control and selfishness.
So, what should you give up? Whatever it is that you feel has more of a hold on you that it should, or simply anything that would represent a sacrifice, and the elimination of which would free up time and energy to focus upon Christ.
I hope you jump in, voluntarily give something up as we focus on Christ and look forward to Easter. What are you giving up for Lent?