1. What is Lent?
Lent began as a season of preparation for baptism. In some traditions it started as a 40-hour fast, and in others it has always been a 40-day fast. The number 40 is representative of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for his ministry. Historically, the 40-day Lenten period started 40 days before Easter, and on Easter Sunday participants were baptized.
Lent is an opportunity to become more like the resurrected Jesus in anticipation of Easter Sunday. By resurrection, we are transformed into the image of Christ and invited to participate in his mission – to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, and set the oppressed free. During Lent, we fast from those things that are selfish, and participate in those things that are sacrificial and bring about justice. Many use this time to quit drinking sodas or cut back on chocolate, but the deeper sense of Lent invites us to rid our lives of those things that prevent justice and/or our awareness of people in need.
In addition to fasting, many choose to add something to their lives that put them more in tune with the Kingdom. For instance, some spend time each day in scripture. Others find places to volunteer. And still others find specific ways to bring about justice in the communities in which they live.
2. Can I eat meat?
Over the years many elements have been added to the 40 days of fasting. Some participants avoid certain foods like red meat, and that’s why you’ll see lots of ads for fish sandwiches during Lent or crawfish boils in places like New Orleans and Houston. In fact, it is quite common for people to eat a vegetarian – or even vegan – diet during Lent. Food is an important part of the Lenten journey because in preparing ourselves for the resurrected Jesus, we need to redirect our hunger. Food is symbolic of that which we crave, that which we rely on for daily sustenance and life. By limiting the types and amounts of food we eat, we remind ourselves that our primary hunger ought to be for Jesus and the life of justice and redemption to which he calls us.
3. When does the fast begin and end?
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends Easter Sunday. You may notice that’s more than 40 days. Some observe their fast every day from Ash Wednesday through Easter; others break their fast on Sunday’s. Ash Wednesday exists to give those who don’t observe a fast on Sunday’s a full 40 days of fasting (Fasting six days a week for six weeks only gives a person 36 days of fasting. Backing it up to Ash Wednesday allows the full 40 days). Whether you fast every day or break your fast on Sunday’s, it’s recommended to fast from Ash Wednesday all the way to Easter, even if you go over 40 days. By doing so, you join with millions of Jesus followers around the world simultaneously ridding their lives of selfishness and worldliness, replacing it with sacrifice, justice, and love. There is joy to be found in being part of a much larger whole rather than walking an individual journey alone.
4. What am I giving up?
Personally, I plan to give up my social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve chosen to fast from these because I often find myself craving acceptance and affirmation through the things I post. I can become so preoccupied with people’s comments (or lack thereof) that I become unproductive in things that really matter.
In addition to fasting from social media, I plan to read and study the book of Isaiah. Jesus seemed to find great insight in this prophet’s words, so in an attempt to understand the Kingdom as Jesus did, I will pour over Isaiah for the full 44 days of Lent.
5. What are you giving up/adding to your life during Lent?
Let’s hear it. What will you give up in an effort to be a greater participant in the mission of Jesus? What will you do during the Lent season to join Jesus in the work he’s doing in the neighborhoods, cities, and world around you?