What Is Lent?

Around the end of February, Christians begin the observance of Lent. But exactly what is Lent?

In the Gospel tales of Jesus, after his baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus heads into the desert for an extended period of time to fast. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus is met and tempted by Satan. Jesus stands strong against Satan’s temptations three times before Satan flees.

This fast that Jesus embarked upon serves as the basis for the tradition of Lent. Lent takes place over six weeks where Christians choose to willingly fast to relive the isolated time of Christ. Not only does this period follow the ideas of fasting in the desert, but it also prepares Christians for Good Friday and Easter.

When Does Lent Begin?

Lent officially begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on February 26, 2020, and Lent continues until April 9.

However, although Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the observance begins the day before on Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday is a day of preparing for Lent and is marked by seeking forgiveness for sins, and feasting.

To prepare for growing closer to God during the fast, Christians historically would seek absolution, so that they may focus on the time ahead, paralleling the baptism of Christ before his fast.

After this, feasts are eaten to prepare the body for the fast. Ash Wednesday is not a celebration in the same way Shrove Tuesday is. On Ash Wednesday, churches hold solemn services where the mark of the cross is drawn on participants’ foreheads in ash.

The mark of the cross reminds Christians of the cross upon which Christ took the sins of the world. It is a reminder that it is the sin of each individual that drove Jesus to the cross, and it is for the forgiveness of that sin that he died.

The ashes also remind Christians that God made Adam from the dust of the earth and in death, a man returns to the dust of the earth. In most churches, the ash used comes from the palm fronds from Palm Sunday the previous year, which symbolize Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. This is a reminder that, although that entry was triumphant, it eventually still led to the cross.

What Should I Do During Lent?

Lent is a period for fasting, reflection, and ultimately drawing closer to God. While the idea of fasting is universal, the nature of the fast is unique to each individual.

Historically, the fast was specifically the giving up of food, but today the idea is much more symbolic. Christians are encouraged to give up whatever serves as a barrier to their relationship with Christ.

In some cases, this is certain technologies or social media, while in others it could be a state of mind like sorrow or hate. Each person is asked to look into themselves and their relationship with Christ, and give up whatever it is that they need to for the 46 days.

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