Lent Remixed.

February 4, 2013

While sipping coffee with Kristin and Kendra one Saturday afternoon, our conversation turned to Lent. My childhood church observed Lent. As a child, I remember that Lent meant Wednesday night soup and supper at church. I still love the memory and feelings of those special nights of fellowship and food. It also meant giving up something important until Easter. At 10 years old, I told my mom that I wanted to give up pasta for Lent. As funny as that sounds, pasta was the most important thing I could think of. I loved pasta (and still do, unfortunately). And I loved Jesus. It seemed only right that I gave up something I loved. My mom indulged my extremely inconvenient request, and our family switched to rice as our primary starch until Easter that year.

Since becoming an adult, I've attended a variety of churches, none of which observe Lent in any particular fashion. Every year, I find that I yearn for the Lenten traditions of my childhood. During our coffee-fueled conversation that cold January afternoon, I spoke of my childhood experience with Kendra and Kristin. Because neither Kristin nor Kendra grew up in churches that observed Lent, Kendra naturally asked me what Lent meant. I stammered for a moment before going silent. I had no idea why we met for soup and suppers on Wednesday nights. I didn't know why my ten-year-old self gave up my beloved pasta except that I loved Jesus and wanted to honor him by giving up something I loved...because, well, because that is what we were supposed to do. I began to wonder how many other people observed Lent without really knowing why. And so, being a self-proclaimed nerd, I did the obvious thing and typed "why do we celebrate Lent" into my trusty Google toolbar on my laptop late that night.

Wow. What I discovered was both beautiful and amazing.

For the uninitiated, Lent is the roughly 40 days leading up to Easter in which some Christians pray and abstain from meat and other items. Different church denominations count days differently (some include Sundays, some exclude Sundays). Different denominations also have different traditions about how to fast, what to fast from, and when to fast. Rather than get bogged down in the nuances of each domination, I focused on researching two things: Why 40 days? And why fast?   

Let's look at Moses. Exodus 34:28 (NLT) states: "Moses remained there on the mountain with the Lord forty days and forty nights. In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water. And the Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments —on the stone tablets."  

Let's look at Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:2  he has just destroyed the prophets of Baal by calling fire from Heaven:
So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.”So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai,[a] the mountain of God. There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” 11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (NLT)

Although it is not a biblical command, there seems to be spiritual significance to the number 40 as a time of preparation, praying and fasting before hearing from God.  As discussed above, both Moses and Elijah fasted and waited 40 days before they received instruction from God. But, most importantly, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before he began his public ministry (Matthew 4:2).  

And so, in the tradition of Moses, Elijah and Christ himself, many Christians observe Lent for the 40 days (minus Sundays) before Easter Sunday preparing, fasting, and praying as we wait to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   

We at The Ruth Experience so love the significance and symbolism behind the Lenten tradition that we are going to observe Lent this year, beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 13. And we would love for you to join us, regardless of your denomination.

This is the plan:  Beginning the week of February 13 and continuing for the next seven weeks we  focus on praying for one country and one cause each week leading up to Easter Sunday.  As part of our weekly prayer, we will fast one item.  Because we'll focus on different items and different countries each week, you can join us as your schedule and life allows -- but we hope you'll consider joining us for all seven weeks! 

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