Each year when we start talking about Lent and Easter, we hear a familiar question from some Bible Gateway visitors: What is Lent? Is it an official Christian holiday? Was it instituted in the Bible? What does it mean to observe Lent, and are Christians “required” to do so? For the interested, we’ll try to answer those questions here.
Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after his crucifixion.
Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing their hearts for Easter. It is commonly observed by many Christian denominations—Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and others—although not every Christian church or denomination does so. Because Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture, observing it isn’t in any way a “requirement” of Christianity. However, Christians from many different theological persuasions choose to observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ during the Easter season.
How Do You Observe Lent?
It differs from person to person and church to church, but some of the things Christians opt to do to observe Lent include:
- On the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday), some Christians mark their foreheads with ash as a symbol of sorrow and mourning over their sin. (See Job 42 for an example of ash used as a symbol of repentance.)
- Special worship services, or additions to regular worship services, that focus in various ways on man’s need for repentance. This often takes the form of extra Scripture readings and prayer.
- Some Christians choose to give up a habit or behavior during Lent as an exercise in prayerful self-denial. This might range from something as simple as not drinking soda during Lent to a full-blown program of fasting.
- Some Christians commit to a special devotional activity during Lent—for example, daily Scripture reading, regular prayer for a specific person or topic throughout Lent, or volunteer work in their community.
The choice to observe Lent is a personal one—the whole point is to focus your heart and mind on Jesus during the journey to Easter. There’s no requirement to observe it, nor should you feel guilted into participating. However, millions of Christians around the world do observe Lent each year; if you’ve never done so, why not give it a try? Whether you observe Lent in a small or major way, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you devote a part of each day to reflecting on Jesus Christ and God’s Word.
We invite you to take a look at our own Lent resources, and to consider other ways that you can deepen your relationship with Jesus over the coming weeks. Whether you call it “Lent observance” or “daily devotions” or anything else, time spent reflecting on Jesus Christ is time well spent!