Christians around the world will begin observing Lent on March 6 and continue to do so for 46 days until April 21. One of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, Lent is meant to prepare observers for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. From giving up pleasures such as technology and junk food to fasting for that time — some exclude the six Sundays— many Christians use the time to reflect on their religion.
Salem Lutheran Church in Pike Township observes Lent with scripture readings every Sunday that follow biblical themes, including Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. James Capers, pastor at Salem, said he sees Lent supporting the base of what Christians believe.
“It helps us focus on Christ, his death and his subsequent resurrection,” Capers said. “Lent is something that prepares us for the foundations of the Christian faith.”
It’s important for Christians to observe Lent, according to Capers, because it’s part of the liturgical calendar, just the same as Advent, the Christmas season and Epiphany.
Historians have had a difficult time pinning down the exact origins of Lent. Starting in about the third century there are multiple examples of 40-day fasts, but they don’t have an obvious connection to Lent. This is in part because of the significance of the number 40 in the Bible: Noah’s flood lasted 40 days, the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 days, Moses fasted twice for 40 days on Mount Sinai and so on. While some argue Lent evolved over time from spans such as six days, what’s clear is Lent became a 40-day affair in the fourth century following the Council of Nicaea.
There are also divergencies in what it means to fast. For some, that includes eating just one meal per day, while others may adhere to a fasting plan such as the “Daniel fast,” which requires a diet of nuts, fruits, vegetables and water.
Eastern Star Church, which has three campuses around the area, has observed Lent with the “Daniel fast” since 2003. It’s a serious enough commitment that Alpha Garrett, director of communications at Eastern Star, said the church encourages those who may be nervous about taking it on to consult a doctor.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to really focus on your relationship with Christ,” Garrett said. “You really try to cut out those things that could be a distraction.”
Eastern Star also encourages people to give up things such as social media and TV, anything that might be distracting from a closer relationship with God. This can be a lot for some to handle, but Garrett said having a large group do it together — she estimated a “large majority” of the church’s roughly 8,000 members participate in the fast — can make it easier.
Of course, not all Christians observe Lent. Keith McQueen, pastor at Powerhouse Church of Deliverance on the east side, explained that Pentecostal churches like his value a more sporadic approach to worship, as opposed to following specific programs and systems, including Lent. McQueen said he might, for example, feel led to tell his church to start fasting immediately for seven days.
Some Christians do fast as part of Lent, but McQueen sees more to gain when acting at the whim of the Holy Spirit because “if sacrifice becomes routine, it’s no longer sacrifice.”
McQueen, whose church includes former Catholics and Lutherans who may still observe Lent, also said he can see why the principles of Lent can be beneficial.
“If Christians embrace Lent, one of the positive effects is it teaches commitment. I think this generation has lost commitment,” he said, referring mostly to millennials and Generation X. “We don’t commit to anything. Commitment is measured in sacrifice.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.