Lent in the Christian Calendar

Evangelicals are known for a lot of things. But one thing they’re not well known for is their practice of the Christian liturgical calendar. In fact, most evangelicals today probably couldn’t even tell you which season we’re in right now—ahem, Lent—or even what it is about. Worse still, many probably celebrated Valentine’s Day this year with absolutely no awareness that February 14th was also Ash Wednesday.

This is a far cry from the customs of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and certain High-Church Protestant traditions, including Lutheranism, Wesleyanism, and Anglicanism. It’s also a far cry from recent calls from evangelicals themselves to embrace the church calendar. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, for example, has issued just such a call in his gem of a book, The King Jesus Gospel, essentially arguing that the adoption of the church calendar is a central means of becoming a people of the story of Christ and, thereby, fostering a gospel culture in our churches. As McKnight writes,

The church calendar is all about the Story of Jesus, and I know of nothing—other than regular soaking in the Bible—that can ‘gospelize’ our life more than the church calendar. . . . Anyone who is half aware of the calendar in a church that is consciously devoted to focusing on these events in their theological and biblical contexts will be exposed every year to the whole gospel, to the whole Story of Israel coming to its saving completion in the Story of Jesus.[1]

If this is right, then evangelicals would be wise to invest time and effort into understanding and implementing the Christian calendar.

What, then, is Lent, and why is it significant? How has it been practiced? And how does it relate to the gospel?

Coming from the Middle English term lente, meaning “spring,” Lent occurs in late winter and early spring, beginning on Ash Wednesday and extending through Holy Week to the day before Easter. Accordingly, it spans 40 weekdays (i.e., days of the week not including Sundays) over the course of about six weeks, corresponding to Jesus’s 40-day fast and temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; cf. Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8). In Christian tradition, Lent is not primarily a time for meditating on the passion of Christ, as this is reserved for Holy Week. Instead, it is a season for personal and corporate spiritual renewal, to be appreciated not only for its own sake but also, and especially, for preparing believers for their remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.[2] Traditionally, Lent has been marked by self-denial and the disciplines of fasting, abstinence, repentance, prayer, and meditation on God’s holy Word.

The Lenten season is also, and more specifically, a season of preparation for baptism. For recent converts who are preparing for baptism on Easter, it is a time for exploring and galvanizing their new identity in Christ. For those who have already been baptized, it is a time for reclaiming their identity as those who have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him to new life (Romans 6:1–14; Colossians 2:11–12). Other than highlighting Christ’s wilderness temptation, then, Lent also subtly underscores (and explicitly anticipates) his death and resurrection. It also stresses the costly demands he places on all who would follow him to the cross.

May we approach this season in self-examination and devotion to our Savior.

[1] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 155.

[2] J. Neil Alexander, “An Introduction to Lent,” in The Services of the Christian Year, vol. 5 of The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber (Nashville: Star Song, 1994), 227.

About the Author
Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

0 comments on Lent in the Christian Calendar

  1. Diane Mayfield says:

    Great article, Brandon!!! I have rarely taken lent to heart ! I was so encouraged just a few years ago because of someone I was around a lot to even do it !! One of the best times of my Christian walk!!! Thank you for writing about this !!!!

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