Why I Observe Lent
I am “evangelical”. It’s hard to say that nowadays, with all the weight that word sometimes brings in the 21st century. But in the strict sense of the definition - I am.
Evangelical - of or according to the teaching of the gospel or the Christian religion.
Typically evangelicals don’t observe the church calendar, but there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the church seasons and, from my own experience, I think I can shed some light on why.
When I was growing up I often had a feeling that something was missing from my personal worship. That feeling was most pronounced around “religious” holidays. I would long for a way to make holidays like Christmas and Easter into special seasons of worship. I was too immature in my faith to create it for myself, so I would just ride the wave of culture leading up to Christmas and Easter and wonder why I felt deflated after the day had gone by.
Growing up in Louisiana, surrounded by Mardi Gras culture, meant I knew what Lent was in the catholic sense of the word. Or, at least, I knew what Mardi Gras was turned into. Leading up to Fat Tuesday you did everything you could to get out all your “sins” so that on Ash Wednesday you could repent and begin fasting from how sinful (this is the way I perceived it) you were until Easter. And I knew that we didn’t observe it, because we weren’t catholic.
I mean, I still went to the parades… but I digress.
I would always wonder, if Easter was the pinnacle of our Christian faith, why wasn’t it more meaningful? I, again, was too immature in my faith to understand that others could not create a worshipful “experience” for me that I had not prepared my own heart for. But I didn’t know how.
Enter the church (or liturgical) calendar. When I was first introduced to the seasons of the church calendar it was like a lightbulb came on in a dim hallway that I had been trying to feel my way through for years. It seemed, to me, like maybe Protestants had thrown out the proverbial “baby with the bathwater”.
Yes, the church calendar in some traditions is a means of oppression causing people to feel as if not observing certain seasons in certain ways means their faith is weak and they are wrong. This oppression is why after the Protestant Reformation most Protestant churches jettisoned every tradition affiliated with the Catholic Church, such as Lent, Advent, and Ordinary Time.
No, Lent is not in the Bible. So it is not strictly “biblical”. And yes, there are verses, such as Galatians 4:8-11, that lead us to believe, if taken out of context, that observing anything from “tradition” should be avoided.
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”
Verses such as these were talking about strict Jewish festivals and laws that were compulsory to observe. This was religious legalistic oppression and it was a crushing weight that suffocated joy.. The gospel of Jesus Christ had liberated them from this oppression and Paul was reminding them that they were voluntarily stepping back into chains when they had been given freedom.
This isn’t what I’m speaking of at all.
I’m speaking of using the church calendar as a means of discipleship. The point of the church calendar is to live your life in a yearly cycle of remembering the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. What better way to live life as a believer?
Every year “begins'' with a season of anticipation that the Messiah is stepping into our physical world—Advent. Then, we celebrate that He has come! Not just with one day, but with 12 days of celebrations. When the 12 days are finished, we observe Epiphany where we look to the wise men and not only worship the Messiah, but celebrate that He has come not just for the Jewish people but for all people.
The season of Epiphany ends on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Did you know that the ashes used in the service to remind us “from dust we came and to dust we will return” come from the burning of the palm fronds used on Easter? These are the same fronds that were used to herald the Messiah being led in a procession of praise into Jerusalem - the procession that turned quickly from praise to protest.
Let the symbolism of that sink in for a minute.
This leads us into a time of repentance, prayer, and fasting as we prepare our hearts for the events of Easter. This is Lent.
And Easter? It’s not just one day, it’s fifty! Fifty days of celebrating that our messiah has come into the world to save us from our sins. Fifty days of sitting in front of the empty tomb. The celebration is only ended in order to celebrate something equally as beautiful - Pentecost.
Fifty days after Eastertide (the season of Easter) is Pentecost. Pentecost is a single joyful feast day, called the "great Lord's Day", where we bask in the glow of the Holy Spirit being given to us. And in the power of the Holy Spirit, we move into a time of living our daily life (Ordinary Time) in step with the Spirit until the cycle begins again.
Do you see it? Do you see the beauty of it? Do you see the sacred rhythm? This is discipleship ingrained in the calendar, year by year by year. Imagine living your life in a yearly cycle always focused on Jesus!
When you wonder why an evangelical like me observes the liturgical calendar, this is why. I’m not sure my faith will ever be mature enough to be able to be consistently worshiping on a daily or yearly basis - I need the tool of the calendar to remind me. Over and over.
It’s not a biblical mandate. It’s not a commandment or law. It’s a discipleship tool, and discipleship IS mandated. You cannot be a follower of Christ without also being a disciple of Christ. If this isn’t the tool for you, then that’s ok but find one that is. Find a tool that isn’t dependent upon your mood or the creativity of your church. A discipleship tool that will carry you through every season of life and into eternity.
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