All I know about Lent in two words: "not much." For more than you may ever have wanted to know, feel free to check out this article. But for what it's worth - here is what I do know about it and why my praxis is what it is:
Lent is the season lasting the 40 (or 47, depending how you count it) days before Easter. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, the liturgical calendar marks this season as a time of mourning and remembrance of the passion of Christ. The Scripture readings for many traditional churches during this season will often focus on the last days of Christ and the events leading up to his crucifixion. It's a season of testing, a season of trial, a season of waiting, and a season of preparation. But we are blessed because even as we live through the darkest days of the Story, we know the ending.
There will be the strange and wonderful beauty of Maundy Thursday, as we partake at the Lord's table and remember the Last Supper and the confusion of the disciples as they try to understand and begin to grapple with what He's been telling them. There will be the awfulness of Good Friday - the darkness and disillusionment that accompanies the liberation of the world. There will be the silence of Saturday - the waiting for... what? And the glorious and joyous celebration of Easter and a new dawn, as we celebrate His resurrection and the new life we have because of Him, singing at the top of our lungs, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Alleluia!!!!"
Lent is the waiting, the preparation, the meditation... on all of that.
I am sorry to say that my church doesn't celebrate it either. I believe it is their very deep loss.
40 days. It's a significant number. Israel spent 40 years in a desert; Jesus spent 40 days there too. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain of the Lord; Elijah took 40 days to get there. Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent. The tie-ins and the symbolism are worth an entire book, so I won't even begin to touch it here. (Lent, by the way, doesn't count Sundays.) So for 40 days we walk through a season that is inevitably sad - a season in which we remember our sin that separated us from Him and our need for His death and resurrection - and yet also a season in which we remember with deep and solemn gratitude the great love that drove Him to the cross for us.... and then, on Easter, we - like Miriam on the far side of the Red Sea - dance for joy and sing of what He's done.
Fasting is a traditional practice during Lent. I believe its roots are generally Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox - not all Protestant churches that observe Lent encourage it. The idea, I think, is to give something up - either a vice (which we ought not to have anyway, but do) or something we enjoy. (For me, a daily trip to the coffee shop would fall under both those categories!) It's an act of love - an act of worship, an act of gratitude - "because of all You gave up for me, I will give this up for You, Lord..." In some circles, it is observed as an act of penitence - a price voluntarily paid as an outward symbol of our inner repentance. (I'm okay with the symbolic part of that, but the debt for our sin has already been paid, so theologically that gets a little sticky.)
The first time I ever really registered Lent as a season to be observed was when the church I attended in high school began a series of Lenten suppers. We met for dinner on Tuesday nights, had some kind of soup, watched a video or read a chapter of a book, and spent an hour discussing it after dinner. They are memories I treasure for many reasons, and were the doorway for me into understanding the importance of remembrance. It wasn't until later in my walk that I began to observe the practice of "giving something up for Lent" - and there are times I will confess when it's been because I felt I "should" and not because I wanted to - but now it is actually a part of the praxis of my faith that I look forward to because of what it will teach me every year.
Last year I wasn't at all well as we headed into Lent, and I felt the Lord call me to a 40-day fast from meat and bread. It was hard. I was hungry a lot, especially at first. There were times it was frustrating - to be somewhere, watching people eat pizza and have to say, "oh, no - thanks, tho" - when really, I wanted a piece. :) But the fast brought me both better health and a deeper understanding of my need for and dependence on the Lord - and those are both things I need again now. Fasting accomplishes a lot of things in us, both physically and spiritually (more on that in another post later this week, probably) - and I think it can accomplish quite a bit as a tool of intercession, tho I do not entirely understand how or why that works - and one of the things it does for me is to increase my hunger for God's presence. I have been waiting for Lent, and preparing for it this year, and I am glad that it's here, in spite of the difficulties that come with the extremely restricted diet I've chosen/felt led to for this particular fast. I am looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do in and through this season. And I am looking forward to Easter, and the promise of new life and resurrection at the far end of so much struggle and darkness and sadness. It has been a long year, these past 12 months. There is much I regret... much I can no longer do anything about, much I cannot change, much said that I cannot take back. There is also much I can do to make this next year better. And it starts with seeking Him.
It will be an excellent 40 day sojourn. And I am hoping that as I walk in the desert, the rebelliousness in me will die the certain death it was promised. That the seeking of the Lord's voice I will do will result in hearing Him speak quietly on the mountain on which I also want to spend this time. That I will come to repentance where I need to. And that at the far end of this hike, I will find Him, not just waiting for me, but also to have been with me. through it all. And I know that He has been, is, and will be.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the liturgy my church used growing up, every Sunday:
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
May the Lord be with you, this day and always. Happy Sunday, everyone.