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A History of Lent: Ancient Opportunity for Spiritual Renewal

For Lutherans, the 40-day season of Lent is an important one.

Though the Scriptures do not mention Lent, it has a longstanding tradition in the Church. It began very simply as a time of preparation for Easter. From the earliest times it was customary for Christians in most places to fast before Easter (or the Paschal Feast). At first this was a 2-day fast (Friday and Saturday). As time passed, this fast was extended here and there to a week. Though we are not certain how it developed, by 350 A.D. the 40-day fast that we now have was already in vogue in most places Today Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (Sundays are excluded to preserve the number 40).

For Christians living in the Fourth Century Lent had two major emphases: First it was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and other Christian ethical precepts and repent where necessary. They were to remember what it cost their Savior to save them, And second, it was a time of instruction and preparation for those who wanted to become member of the Christian Church. During Lent they learned the Christian doctrine by studying the Creed. They were led step by step through prayer and special rites toward baptism. If they "passed" they were baptized and received the Lord's Supper in a joyous service either on Easter Eve (the Easter Vigil) or Easter itself.

At the time of the Reformation, some Christians wanted to eliminate Lent since Scripture didn't command it. Luther urged that it be kept, for he saw Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith. "Lent, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week shall be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to preserve the Passion history and the Gospels appointed for that season". Here Luther tells us that Lent should be preserved, in part, because it reminded Christians of the Passion (Suffering and Death) of Jesus and encouraged them to meditate upon it. However, no one should be forced to participate. It should be voluntary.

So we also retain Lent to this day, because we see it as an outward discipline that gives Christians a wonderful opportunity for spiritual renewal. Our observance of Lent combines many of the above features. Through our midweek and Sunday services, our Bible studies, and Lenten devotional materials, we come face to face with whatever may be hindering our walk with Christ. But most profoundly, we come face to face with the Gospel of Jesus which forgives and removes sin and gives us the power to live anew.

Are you satisfied with your walk with Christ? Or do you long for more: to know Him better, to be more like Him, to experience His love more profoundly? Then consider the discipline of Lent. There is nothing like it to bring you face to face with Jesus and His Gospel. There is nothing like it to find spiritual renewal.

Blessings for the Journey!

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