Lent begins 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, and it is set aside as a time of self-reflection, prayer, fasting, and charitable giving. In the time of the early Christian church, as adult converts were added, Lent was designated for preparation and teaching, with baptisms and first communions after sundown on Holy Saturday or at first light on Easter Sunday. The 40 days of Lent are for Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.
Lent is the season leading up to Jesus’ death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter morning. Before his crucifixion, Jesus was dressed in a purple robe by Pontius Pilate, mocking Christ’s claim to power. Purple reminds us of the upside-down reign of Jesus, the son of God who dies for us. Purple is also the color of near-night and near-dawn, calling us to self-reflection and repentance.
What’s with the pancakes?
By the 15th century, Lent had been established as a time of solemnity and fasting. Christians were expected to get rid of all the luxurious foods in their house — specifically butter, eggs, and fat. Guess what you can make with those! Thus grew the tradition of Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday,” when Christians would eat and drink and do everything else they planned to not do for the next 40 days.
What’s this about fasting?
Fasting has long traditions in many world religions as a way to focus the mind and show one’s spiritual devotion and commitment. Temporary self-denial can invite us to compassion for those who are hungry not by choice, to a remembrance of the trials of Jesus, or to better appreciation of food when we do eat. A common practice today during Lent is to give up a particular kind of food or drink, like chocolate, candy, or alcohol (some even give up coffee!). But in a day and age when eating disorders are not uncommon, it’s important to remember that what we do during Lent is not for us, but for our relationship with God and compassion for our neighbor. A practice that puts us in physical danger is not the kind of fast God invites us to. That’s why we pray at the end of each Lenten service:
May we fast from worry and feast on trust.
May we fast from haste and feast on patience.
May we fast from judgment and feast on kindness.
May we fast from gossip and feast on service.
May we fast from resentment and feast on forgiveness.
May we fast from fear and feast on love,
finding our power for compassion in the life of Jesus our Lord.