The background of Lent in the Church’s history is found in two different activities that occurred during the weeks before Easter. The first was the process by which repentant sinners were received back into the fellowship of the congregation. This theme of repentance continues to be a major focus of Lent. As we prepare to observe our Lord’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, we place renewed emphasis on need for repentance in our own lives. We examine our lives and confess the sin that is present in them in preparation for the celebration of forgiveness won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The second background of Lent was the process of catechesis by which catechumens were prepared for entrance into the Church through Holy Baptism. The time leading up to the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday when the baptisms took place was a period of intense instruction for the catechumens as they learned about the faith.
We recognize Lent as a time of repentance. It is a time when we examine our lives and confess our sin. But do we lose sight of the second emphasis of Lent – that of catechesis and growth in our knowledge of God’s Word? Lent is also a time when we need to consider the ways that the reading and study of God’s Word is present in our life … and the ways it is not.
In the Old Testament God gave his Torah to Israel. It told Israel how they were to live in the covenant with Him. Through Moses Yahweh told the people: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV). The Word that God gave to Israel was constantly to occupy the people of Israel. It was a Word that they were diligently to teach their children.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17 ESV)Writing in the first century A.D., Paul knew that those who sought to live the Christian faith would face persecution. They would receive intense cultural pressure because they were a small group that did not fit in because of their beliefs about pagan worship and the use of sexuality. In the twenty first century A.D. Christianity may no longer be a small group. But the cultural pressure is rapidly growing in intensity from those who once again reject Christianity’s claim to worship the one true God – the triune God who has revealed Himself in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Perhaps even stronger is the pressure to accept and embrace every misuse and perversion of God’s gift of sexuality.
In face of this pressure in the first century, Paul told Timothy to embrace the holy Scripture for it is only there that one can be made wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus; it is only there that one be can be trained in righteousness and equipped for every good work. The same thing is true for us today.
The season of Lent calls you to examine how you are doing. Are you regularly attending the Divine Service in order to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed by the pastor God has given you to do this? Are you reading God’s Word on a regular basis? Are you reading it to your children and grandchildren? Are you continuing to receive instruction in God’s Word through attendance at Bible class? Are you bringing your children and grandchildren to Sunday school? Through these very basic ways you need to be learning from God’s Word and growing in the faith and knowledge. Lent provides the opportunity to acknowledge where and how this is not happening, so that we can make changes in our life that embrace more deeply the gift of God’s life giving Word.