Actually, it doesn’t. But signups to receive my Lenten guide do. Why so early? And why does a Protestant minister write a Lenten guide each year?
Easter comes early this year (April 5), so Lent, which always begins 47 days before Easter Sunday, begins on February 18. Why do the dates vary so widely from year to year? Because Easter Sunday can fall any time from March 22 to April 25. Here’s the reason: Jesus died on Passover, which was observed on the first full moon following the spring equinox. Easter Sunday is thus the first Sunday after that full moon. And Lent counts backwards from Easter to include 40 days plus Sundays.
Why 40 days? Because Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert, and laid 40 hours in the tomb; the Hebrews wandered for 40 years in the wilderness; the world was flooded for 40 days in the time of Noah. Each was a period of preparation for what was to follow. So it was that early Christians began setting aside time before Easter to prepare for their celebration of the resurrection.
These are meant to be days of solemnity and reflection, so many fast from something during Lent. Some give up coffee or chocolate; others restrict their travel or use of technology. Sundays are typically excluded from fasting, since they are celebrations of the risen Christ. The period begins with Ash Wednesday, during which many churches mark believers with ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday foliage.
Why is Lent relevant for those whose tradition does not typically include it?
One: we need to live in community with the larger body of Christ, and the vast majority of Christians practice some form of Lenten observance. Two: we cannot fully appreciate Jesus’ resurrection unless we have experienced some of his suffering. Fasting is an appropriate means of spiritual identification with Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Three: our souls need a period each year for intentional spiritual introspection and contemplation. John Stott, the great Anglican pastor and scholar, set aside an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year to be alone with his Father. Just as students need a spring break, so do souls.
In this year’s Lenten guide, we will walk with men and women whose lives were transformed by Easter. We’ll journey with Judas Iscariot, Peter, Caiaphas, Pilate, John the Apostle, Mary Magdalene and “doubting” Thomas. Each has something significant to say to us as we seek to be changed by the cross.
I hope you’ll order the printed version of the Lenten guide (we are taking orders through January 19 so we can print the correct number of books), or download it for free. Please pray with me for the Holy Spirit to use the guide as he leads us into a transforming encounter with our risen Lord. Martin Luther noted that “our Lord has written the promise of the Resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.” May our journey to Easter be the spring-time of our souls.