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One Baptist friend of mine recently asked online: “Are you observing Lint this year?”
That represents about as much familiarity with the tradition as I had growing up in a so-called non-liturgical church.
The “Season of Lent” is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Though it has a somewhat debated and rather complicated history, it is undoubtedly ancient in origin. Over the long course of its development, significant changes have been made with regard to the days and specific fasts observed. But there has also been remarkable consistency in its function and focus. As one historian writes, “Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (~ 130-200 AD) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.”
In the 7th century, Pope Gregory the Great moved the start of Lent from the traditional 40th Sunday of the church calendar (or Quadragesima) to a Wednesday calculated 40 days out from Easter (not including Sundays, which are considered feast days). This came to be called “Ash Wednesday” since ash was smeared on the foreheads of observants in the sign of a cross – a token of the biblical symbolism of repentance (“sackcloth and ashes”) and human frailty (“dust you are, and to dust you shall return”).
Today is Ash Wednesday (2/10/16). As you consider whether or not – and if so, how – you’re going to observe Lent through a fast of some sort, here are a few things to consider.
Why Fast for Lent?
Why Not Fast for Lent?
Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
How Should I Think through Fasting?
Finally, think through the details of your fast: the why, when, from what, etc. See David Mathis’ Fasting for Beginners from Desiring God for some helpful tips.