Pamela K Kramer, Spiritual Growth
I am starting to write this on the first day of Spring, March 20. By the time you read this, it will April and we can hope to experience some real Spring weather. But we live in Chicagoland, and we know how fickle the warm-up can be.
Rather than the usual question-and-answer format that Pastor Justin and I have used, I am writing this article
alone. I am going to share with you some facts about Lent and Easter. Many of you may already know them
(forgive me for wasting your time). So here goes:
What is Lent? We all know Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for approximately six weeks. But
the end varies depending on which denomination or custom you are following. Therefore, while we usually
talk about it being 40 days, it ends on Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday. The complex calculation used to determine the dates makes Lent last 46 days including Sundays, but only 40 if they are not. I am not going to explain the higher math included in the calculation. Suffice it to say, it also involves the Christian desire to have the crucifixion happen during the Jewish celebration of Passover.
The significance of the number “40” in the Bible is interesting. Depending on the translation, it is mentioned 146 (or 149) times. In the Bible, 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial and then, finally, triumph. That may be 40 days, or 40 years. For example, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years; Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai before receiving God’s covenants; Goliath taunts God’s people for 40 days before David decides he will
fight for his people; when the prophet Elijah fled the wicked queen Jezebel, he traveled 40 days and nights until he reached Mount Horeb where, in the shelter of a cave, he heard God; it rained for 40 days and nights on Noah and the Ark. Finally, the most important 40 days for Christians are the 40 days and nights Jesus, led by the Spirit, spent in the wilderness praying and resisting the temptations of Satan.
Why do we use “Lent and Easter” and not their Greek or Latin terms? The word Lent is a shortened form of
the Old English word lencten, meaning “spring season”, as its Dutch language cognate lente (Old Dutch lentin) still does today. It may possibly have reference to the lengthening of the days as characterizing the season of Spring, which leads us to the celebrations of Easter. Like so many of our cherished Christmas customs, Easter began as a pagan festival celebrating Spring. People celebrated the equinoxes and the solstices as sacred times. In the
early years of Christianity, feast days were attached to old pagan festivals. It took 300 years for the church to
formalize the idea that new life and relief from winter were something that could be explicitly connected to
Jesus through his death and resurrection.
How come bunnies and eggs, candy, and Peeps? Eggs, symbol of new life, became an explanation of the resurrection; nature was coming to life again. Rabbits and hares are also associated with fertility and were symbols linked to the goddess Eostre. Thus, we call the day Easter. The bunnies and eggs have been a boon to commercialism. Since the 19th century, greeting cards, chocolate, and other small things have been a part of the Easter celebration.
Is Lent still important today? As the key religious observance in the Christian world, Lent is the season to observe and commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an opportune time to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Christ. Martin Luther urged it be kept, not out of any necessity (one does not need to observe Lent to be either saved or sanctified), but because he saw Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith and distinctive proclamation of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
As we approach the end of our Lenten season of deep reflection, prayer, and living the radical love of Christ, let us all celebrate the gloriousness of the risen Christ in our lives!