The word comes to us from a Latin word meaning lengthening of days. We can find the term in use among many Christian groups to mark the 46 days leading up to Easter weekend. In Christian tradition Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox, which seems fitting since spring’s equinox is the day the darkness of nighttime has receded, and the light of daytime is once again equal to it.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4, 5
The 46 days leading to Easter include 6 Sundays which are not counted, given they are commonly regarded as days of rest. This leaves 40 working days. For observers of the Lenten season the 40 days begin on Ash Wednesday and are dedicated to some form of fasting and prayer. The majority set aside one pleasure, usually a food item or beverage. Many churches hold an Ash Wednesday service to officially kick it off. Typically, at some point during such a service the officiant will dip a finger into common wood ashes and mark a cross on each observant’s forehead or sprinkle some ash on their head, saying, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," and "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."
The number 40 for the length of the observance is derived from the 40-day temptation of Jesus as recorded in the opening chapters of the first three Gospels. During this period, He fasted and prayed, and resisted a variety of temptations. His success represents the perfection of His entire life prepared for a death that would meet the requirements for atonement (I John 2:2). The word atonement refers to the means (propitiation – a satisfactory offering) God has employed to either cover or remove the cause of the rift in our relationship to Him (Isaiah 59:2).
Should believers observe it?
Lent is not a Biblical event, that is, it is not one prescribed in the Bible by the apostles as they laid down their recommendations for believers. That said, it is not a bad thing. With such practices the danger usually lies in two errors. One is the mixing of paganism with Biblical truth and then calling it “holy to the Lord.” The second and more dangerous is legalism. Legalism refers to how we attach guilt for disobedience where there is none. We may create laws and rules and holiday observances, all of which may be helpful in some way, but to weight them with a burden of guilt if they are not kept inviolate is to do harm. This is what Jesus referred to when He said, “You teach as doctrines (in this case meaning divine truth to live by) the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9),” and “lay upon folks a heavy burden you are unwilling to help lift (Matthew 23:4).”
Lent or no, during this ‘lengthening-of-days’ season hopefully all of us will honor our all-sufficient Savior who has finished the necessary work for our atonement by His satisfactory death. Now, having risen He is “seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3),” “God having made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).”
Enjoy His kaleidoscope church and observe with delight the sincere devotion of all His saints, though it be different in ritual and appearance from our own.
Grace today y’all!