Nowhere does it say in the Bible that Christians are to spend 40 days praying and fasting in the lead-up to Good Friday and Easter. Nor does it speak of an “Ash Wednesday” or “Holy Week”.
So why do so many churches mark the Lenten period, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends in the Holy Week?
And why think about this, when we are struggling with many other challenges—such as the COVID-19 outbreak—now?
In case you’re wondering, Lent is a season celebrated by many of the more traditional or liturgical churches. During this season, believers prepare for Good Friday by putting a greater emphasis on repentance and self-denial as they reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. Typically, it involves fasting or giving up some luxuries, and a greater note of solemnity in church services and events.
All this is to remind Christians of their sin that put Christ on the cross. This grief is marked by the “ash” of Ash Wednesday, which falls on 26 February this year. Lent lasts 40 days, evoking memories of Jesus’ period of fasting in the desert (Matthew 4:2). Some churches also mark Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with His disciples.
All these days, which have been practised by Christians over hundreds of years, are meant to encourage believers to spend time thinking about our sinful state and how only Christ can save us from the grip of sin and reconcile us with the holy God (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:13-14).
Lent is obviously not compulsory. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing. 1 Corinthians 10:23 notes that “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.” But the opposite can also be true: not all things are mandatory, but they can be helpful.
With many churches and Christian organisations rolling out printed and online resources or holding special services to help people observe Lent—not to mention, temporarily stopping mass gatherings and other meetings—why not take the opportunity to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the cross?
Perhaps we can start with these simple things each day:
Pray: Thank our Heavenly Father for sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins.
Repent: Think about what we’ve done wrong and our struggle with temptation, and how we can only overcome these weaknesses with the Holy Spirit’s help.
Reflect: Read the Gospel accounts of the days leading to Jesus’ death on the cross, His resurrection, and how they can transform the way we live and love others.
Fast: Abstaining from food (if it is safe) or something we like (for example, an indulgence or luxury) can help us focus on what Jesus gave up for our sake. —Leslie Koh
Jesus, thank You for dying for my sin
so that I can be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
I want to spend the next few weeks
reflecting on what You did for me,
please help me honour this commitment to You.