By Heather Green
Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, Lent has changed significantly over the years. Early in the second century of the Christian Church, Irenaus of Lyons wrote about Lenten observances, which only lasted three days as compared to the forty that the Council of Nicea adopted in the early fourth century to represent the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. However, the forty day observance of Lent did not have a designated timeframe until the seventh century of the Christian Church when Gregory the Great mandated that it would begin on a Wednesday (which became Ash Wednesday) and last forty days and nights (excluding Sundays which were considered “feast” days) leading up to Easter.
Although the observance of Lent has changed significantly, the ideas behind Lent have remained the same; it is a time for repentance, self-examination, and sacrifice. Unlike the Catholic Church or some of the Orthodox sects, the Lutheran Church has never been as strict with some of the Lenten practices of fasting each day or avoiding meat during Lent. Instead, the Lutheran Church focuses on making personal sacrifices or “going without” to give to the poor. We see this with the yearly Lenten Denial folders that go to a ministry instead of the church fund.
However, some churches are now encouraging members to use Lent as a time for personal improvement. This could be by giving up a bad habit or working on a personal goal. Viewing Lent in this way is almost a reaffirmation of New Year’s Resolutions that may have been forgotten and a way to rededicate oneself to the idea that “the body is a temple,” or that mankind was “made in God’s image.”
Maybe the best way to observe Lent is by marrying the two ideas of sacrifice and self-improvement. Many people make sacrifices every day in their profession: police officers, firefighters, and military service men and women. In the CLEWS article this month, Patti Bareither wrote about one of our own CLEWS families welcoming home their dad, TSGT Adam Moore, when he returned from a six-month deployment in Kuwait. Lent is the perfect time to honor the sacrifices made by families like the Moore family as well as the other families in our church who have a loved one in law enforcement. They work all hours, regardless of holidays or weather conditions, and are more often than not unappreciated and even vilified in the news. This Lenten season, let’s remember these families and their daily sacrifices and make an effort to show our appreciation for their service.