A couple of weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, a pastor reminded me of the fragility and finite nature of life, and exhorted me to keep the Gospel in my heart. He then spread a thin, oily layer of black ashes in the shape of a cross on my forehead. I left the church and went about a day of groceries, meal preparation and caring for my rambunctious one year old, still visibly marked. By the way, I'm not Catholic.
Although I now belong to an Anglican church which makes use of a liturgical calendar, I began observing Lent while still attending nondenominational, Evangelical-type churches. I became interested in this period of abstinence and fasting as I read through books on the history of Christianity. I would learn that a number of Protestant Christian denominations- such as the Episcopal Church, Lutherans and high-church Methodists- practice Lent, as do other Christians, such as the Orthodox.
I found a very helpful article on CBN by Elliot Ryan on why Protestants should celebrate Lent, too. Here are some excerpts:
While Mardi Gras has gained a reputation for its hedonism, Lent is known as a time of prayer, repentance, and recommitment leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Starting with Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, and culminating 40 days later, Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for the most important religious holiday for believers. (Sundays are not included in the observance of Lent as Sundays are supposed to be holy days of celebrating the resurrection for all Christians.)
Traditionally, observers participated in Lent by abstaining from certain types of food (particularly meat, eggs, and milk products). In some traditions, partial fasts were observed where participants would eat only one meal on certain days. Many who observe Lent today are not as strict. Often they choose to abstain from a particular food or particular behavior (such as watching TV, for example) during Lent. The idea is to abstain from pleasurable activities and instead use the time and energy usually spent in those activities to focus on taking stock of one’s own spiritual condition and repenting for spiritual failures. This idea seems foreign even to many Christians in our culture of immediate gratification.
The 40 days of Lent are also a time of grief. All Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ each Easter. Unfortunately, we often don’t spend much time grieving over our sins that caused the brutal execution of Christ. This tradition begins with the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Ashes are put on believers’ foreheads on Ash Wednesday as a sign of repentance. The practice of putting ashes on one’s head is an ancient sign of mourning that was often done at funerals or similarly sorrowful occasions. In this case, the ashes represent sorrow over our sins and the pain and death caused by sin. Perhaps if we are to truly appreciate the great cost to Christ of our salvation, we should meditate on our sinfulness. This meditation should lead observers of Lent to turn away from their sins and recommit themselves to holiness.
Perhaps, after we examine our hearts and lives, we will be led to cry out to God as David did, "Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:9-10).
You can read the post in it's entirety here.Over the past few years, I have been challenged by observing Lent. In Romans 12:1, St. Paul tells us to present our bodies as a "living sacrifice" to the Lord, for it is an act of "spiritual worship." There is a definitive link between our physical and spiritual selves. As I abstain from eating or drinking certain things (physical), I find myself turning to God in prayer for strength and resolve (spiritual). I present my hunger or appetite for sugary sweets as sacrifices while I press in closer to God through worship, Scripture reading and prayer.
If you've ever found yourself interested in doing the Daniel Fast or some other form of spiritual discipline, I encourage you to consider observing Lent. It's a challenge worth undertaking.
By Alisha De Freitas