The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the very heart of Christianity. It is by means of these truths that we come into an understanding of our rescue. A rescue brought about by God as He has acted in history to conquer evil and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For those who find their identity in that truth, they have been united with Christ in His death and will one day be united with Him in His resurrection.
Romans 6:4–6 (ESV) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
If we have been united to Christ, then it seems as if we should take some time to meditate on this truth. The early church believed that we should take time to meditate on our union with Christ and therefore added a period of time into the church calendar right before Easter. The preparation for Easter dates back to our early church fathers. Prior to denominations, church calendars and papal decrees, we can find the second century church establishing a time of reflection, fasting and preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.
This time of reflection is commonly called Lent. References to fasting during Lent can be found in the early church writings. Irenaeus (130-202AD), the disciple of Polycarp (who was the disciple of the Apostle John), wrote concerning the time allotted for a lenten fast. Concerning a season for fasting as part of the Easter preparation, Irenaeus writes: “Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24). This quote lets us see into the early church, that very early on they were discussing a time of fasting and preparation for the Easter celebration.
Our modern Christian calendars begin the Lenten Season on Ash Wednesday and proceed for 40 days (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. The word “Lent” comes from the Greek word which means “forty.” Although the English word Lent partially takes on that meaning, it literally means “lengthen.” The concept of the term lengthen comes from the lengthening of the sun during the days of Spring. Sundays themselves are not counted in these forty days, as they are generally set aside as days of renewal and celebration (“mini-Easters” of sorts).
The number forty carries great biblical significance based on: the forty days of rain Noah and his family endured in the flood, the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness, the forty days Jesus spent on the earth after his resurrection, and so much more. Forty days have been used by God to represent a period of trial, testing, and preparation. Likewise, Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection and joy of Easter.
Why Celebrate Lent?
For many throughout history, Lent has been a time of abstinence and self-affliction. As Reformed Protestants, we believe it is important to point people to the early churches’ perception that Lent is about preparation. As the church of Christ, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the Passion Week, the days that mark Christ’s atonement for our sins and victory over Satan and death. These days carry a much greater significance when we have properly prepared for them and retrace Christ’s journey to the cross. Lent helps the church focus on why Jesus had to die and why we need a Savior.
Some will find it helpful during this time to abstain from certain pleasures because you have found them to become idolatry for you. But never forget that as people who are centered on the Good News — the Gospel — we recognize that we need a Savior. Therefore, we put off idolatry because we have a Savior, and not because we are trying to be worthy of one. As with any ritual or symbol, Lent can be abused and made meaningless, so it is imperative to consider our motives before we begin.
Others will find it helpful during this time to add to our everyday rhythms. Consider spending extra time reading the Gospels or other theological books centered on the death, burial, and resurrection. These activities are always encouraged, but especially during this season of preparation. The goal is to create a noticeable break in our regular schedules to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter.
Philippians 3:8–11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Preparing for Easter Resources:
Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis
Journey to the Cross (Walker)
Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die (Piper)
Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy: Morning & Evening Meditations for Holy Week (Desiring God)
The Cross of Christ (Stott)
Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Murray)