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Prepare for Easter’s Joy

All Christians, no matter the denominational background, can benefit from a time of preparation leading up to Easter. Historically, the season called Lent allowed for this spiritual preparation for the joys of Easter.

I grew up going to the Church of God, and enjoyed the year I attended an Assembly of God Bible college, so I know how keeping Lent can sound. Let’s be honest. If you were not raised keeping Lent, you are probably thinking, “This is one of those Catholic things I avoid.” I would like to challenge you to learn more about what it means to prepare for Easter with the season of Lent, and then decide if it is right for you.

In the first few centuries of the Christian Church, there developed the practice of baptizing new Christians on the eve of Easter. The newly baptized would then take part fully in the worship service for the first time on Easter Sunday. It was customary for the ones who were to be baptized to fast for two or three days leading up to the baptism.

By the year 325, that custom of a two or three day fast had been extended to a forty-day fast leading up to baptism, with the whole church joining those to be baptized in the time of preparation. The forty day fast was based on Jesus’ own fast which followed his baptism in the Jordan River. Moses and Elijah also kept forty-day fasts.

The fast of lent was observed by eating only one meal a day in the evening, with no meat, fish, and in most places eggs, also forbidden. Every Sunday was a feast of the resurrection, and so they were not considered fast days. Therefore, the forty-day fast lasted for the six weeks from Ash Wednesday (which this year was February 13) through Easter Eve.

By the fifteenth century, the fast was gradually falling out of favor, with the addition of eggs coming first. In time, the only fast days observed were Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, the entire forty-day period continued to have its character as a time for denial and self-examination.

The Reformation further took its toll on the observance of Lent. The Reformers rightly knew that we cannot earn God’s love. Lent seemed to many people as an attempt to earn God’s favor. Therefore, most reformed denominations dropped the observance of Lent, which had been common in the Christian faith for centuries.

Of course, all Christians affirm that we cannot work our way to heaven. We cannot earn God’s favor and love. It is through faith alone that we are made right in God’s eyes.

However, a time of self-examination is always helpful. Keeping this time during the historic forty days of Lent, which lead up to Easter is a most appropriate time.

Lent is an inward journey. Lent is a time for concentration on fundamental values and priorities.

You may have heard of people giving up things for Lent. This dates to the practice of fasting. But, Lent is not a time for self-punishment. The custom is to mark the season of Lent by giving up some things and taking on others. Either can serve to mark the season as a holy time of preparation.

Some examples of things people give up for Lent include sweets, meat for all or some meals, tobacco, or alcohol. What you pick is a very personal choice. Denying yourself chocolate for example is a way to say that your love of God matters more than your love of chocolate.

In most cases, giving up something for Lent is more meaningful if you use the money or time for another purpose. For example, meal times on fast days could be spent in prayer.

Another example is that if you give up meat during Lent, the extra money that would go to meat dishes can be given to a group, such as Isaiah 6:8 ministries at Kingsland First Methodist or the Salvation Army in St. Marys. Both groups help needy families in our own county to get food.

Some things added during Lent could be daily Bible reading, times of prayer, taking a course of study related in some way to your faith, more frequent church attendance, or begin tithing.

Whatever you deny yourself or add to your personal discipline, the goal is increasing your own awareness of God in your life. Lent should be a time of deeper reflection, a time to discover and remove the self-made barriers that keep you from experiencing God more fully. Then your joy in celebrating Easter will be all the more meaningful as you will have spent this last six weeks drawing closer to God.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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