I remember that as a kid, Easter always seemed to sneak up on me.
Christmas, on the other hand, seemed to build up all year and explode into glorious celebration. The feelings of anticipation, expectation, and excitement that I had for Christmas burst forth in rainbows and sparkles. This contrasted to Easter, which politely tapped me on the shoulder, and coaxed the excitement out of me by offering hidden chocolate eggs.
As I dove deeper into the mysteries of faith, a longing began. I wondered how I could prepare myself for Easter and I looked for ways our family could prepare together.
I knew that Easter was supposed to be the pinnacle of the Christian calendar, a time to actively remember the awesome act of Jesus our messiah within the history of mankind.
We had already started celebrating Shabbat (or the sabbath) a few years before, and our family had been learning more about the Christian festivals. I had always known about Lent, but never understood it. It was obvious to me that it was meant as a preparation for Easter, but why? and how?
A Very Brief History of Lent
Since the earliest of times in the church, there has always been some sort of preparation for Easter. Though it varied between the groups, it became more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. Since there was a split between the church in the East and the West, or this time of Easter preparation came to be known as Lent and has looked different for each tradition. For instance, it starts on different days, and the exact nature of what is fasted varies. It is a period of 40 days of fasting, and things such as eggs, cheese, meat, wine, and in some traditions even oil is abstained from. The number 40 has a particular significance for the Christian as Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, and Jesus 40 days in the desert before the beginning of his ministry.
I naturally don’t like rules, I reject dead religious activities and I had always assumed Lent belonged in those categories. I also struggled with my freedom and independence. I have the freedom to never observe Lent, I also have complete freedom to enjoy anything I want at anytime. I never have to hunger, I can be entertained at will, I can buy anything I really need and thanks to Amazon, whenever I want.
I never have to want.
I don’t like to want either.
Why did the early Christians chose to prepare for Easter by abstaining from normal things?
I think they really missed things like meat and cheese, they noticed their absence all throughout the day.
“Great Lent is intended to be a “workshop” where the character of the believer is spiritually uplifted and strengthened; where his life is rededicated to the principles and ideals of the Gospel; where fasting and prayer culminate in deep conviction of life; where apathy and disinterest turn into vigorous activities of faith and good works…Lent is not for the sake of Lent itself, as fasting is not for the sake of fasting. Rather, these are means by which and for which the individual believer prepares himself to reach for, accept and attain the calling of his Savior.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lent
Have you ever turned your phone off for the day?
How many times today have you gone for your phone to check it? Or put your hand in your pocket to see if someone messaged? Or perhaps you felt bored and wanted to quickly open Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest just to scroll through something.
Now imagine each of those moments where your body craved occupation, or immediate knowledge and instead of satisfying that impulse you used those feelings as a natural call to prayer.
One could use each uncomfortable fidget to think of God,
to thank him for your life,
to worship him in your mundane everyday.
The abstaining of food (or certain foods) functions in a similar way. We join together with a host of Christians, past, present and future, in our practice. Each hunger pain can be a call to prayer, each grumble of the tummy a reminder that God is the provider of our daily bread, and the one who ultimately fulfills all of our needs and desires.
After observing Lent there is a longing that is fulfilled in such a practical and natural way. If we abstained from meat, how delicious is that roast lamb going to taste?
If coffee was missing from our tables for the last 40 days, what is that first sip going to taste like? It’s going to be delicious!
We will taste and see, in a very practical way, that God is good.
When Easter comes, we get to experience, in essence, the “rainbows and sparkles” (as my husband likes to say), that the first Christians experienced.
Just as all of mankind spent millennia waiting, and longing for a hero to make things right between us and our creator, and for a turn in history, we also remember in these 40 days we are still waiting for the return of the King.
All creation is grumbling and hungry, it is crying out for wrongs to be righted.
In that way, we are anticipating that eternal satisfaction.