By Pastor Ron Buxton
Every year, prior to Resurrection Sunday, the Orthodox Churches observe what is known as Lent. These forty days are meant to represent the 40 days of fasting and temptation that Jesus endured prior to His earthly ministry. Matthew 4:1-2 records: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” As for Biblical precedence, this is the text referred to behind the observance of Lent.
If you read my previous article, you realize that I was formerly oblivious to this religious event. Growing up in the great state of Maine, I rarely encountered church folk that participated in Lent. In fact, it was my experience in college, in Rhode Island, that this orthodox practice became evident to me. Always curious, I began to study the various practices of Orthodox Christianity in order to better understand the differences. Now, I’ll share a little bit of what I learned, along with some practical applications, that have personally benefited me.
You will find no Biblical references to Lent in the first-century church. None of the Apostles’ letters, nor the Book of Acts, refer to this event. That is not to say that it wasn’t in the earliest of Church history. Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-200 A.D.) wrote of such a season that lasted 2-3 days for fasting, and a special observance of self-denial in regards to certain indulgences. Later, in 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea discussed a 40 day Lenten season of fasting presumably to prepare new converts for baptism. However, not much detail is given to explain what their intention was. It wasn’t until the 600’s A.D. that “Gregory the Great” moved the season of Lent to begin on “Ash Wednesday” with the symbolism of ash to represent the sackcloth and ashes of repentance, and the awareness of human mortality.
I actually like that Lent causes many people to reflect upon life in a more sober manner. Even if that only means eating tuna fish sandwiches on Fridays. However, I have found that if we don’t attach an internal significance to our external actions, then we lose the deeper spiritual benefits that not only please God, but also keep us truly humble. I quoted 1 Samuel 16:7 in a previous article, but it bears repeating again. The Bible tells us that , “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Would to God that those who profess a faith in God remember that principle. Heaven knows, we still encounter to many “pharisees” in the modern day Church.
So to answer the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, I submit to you today only one thing on my rather long list. I’m pledging to give up control of my expectations for myself and others. Man, is that hard to do! Have you noticed that, also? We can too often fix our hopes on other people (and even ourselves), only to emotionally crash when those expectations prove to be unrealistic. Of course, for those that know God through the redemptive work of Christ, this need not be the case. The hymn writer got it right. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ Blood and righteousness! All other sources for which mankind could hope are (to quote Ecclesiastes) “chasing the wind”. And so, I challenge you to join me. Don’t allow any expectation, apart from specific promises from God in His Word, to derail your life. Jesus never told His disciples that our lives would be easy here on earth, but He did promise to never forsake us. It is when we “give up” all other expectations, that we gain everything we need and so much more in Him.