Lent is a season of fasting as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Why should we fast during Lent?
First a little history: the regular observance of Lent is older than the regular observance of Christmas. Lent is so ancient that Irenaeus (born less than 20 years after the apostle John died) wrote about the various ways people fasted leading up to Easter. This makes Lent very, very old in the church. Our church fathers thought it was a good idea, but why should we?
The truth is God doesn’t want your M&Ms or your coffee or your after-dinner snacks. Lent is a voluntary choice to give up something one enjoys, something that is good. It is a voluntary “suffering” that is intended to remind us of Jesus and his suffering for us. You might be wondering how giving up M&Ms or coffee in any way compares to the suffering of Jesus; it doesn’t. Even if we crucified ourselves we would not truly be experiencing the suffering Jesus experienced, because Jesus endured God’s wrath for our sin. We cannot mimic the suffering of Jesus—nor do we have to. His suffering will completely end our suffering.
Instead, fasting during Lent is a tool that is intended to help us focus on the final days of Jesus and what resurrection really means for us. This is why Lent is a 40-day fast that lasts 46 days: we do not fast on Sundays. Because each Sunday is a mini-Easter (and a celebration of the Lord’s presence among us) the one who fasts breaks his fast for that day. If you give up M&Ms during Lent, enjoy them every Sunday, rejoicing that Jesus will one day end all suffering.
Lent is not really about giving up something, but remembering something. The resurrection of Jesus is what ends suffering. Lent isn’t about showing God how serious we are or how disciplined we are. Lent is not about becoming more productive or breaking bad habits or forming good habits. It’s not a “40 days to a new you!” Those things may happen, but Lent is a reminder of just how important resurrection is. As we look forward to our Easter celebration, let us remember our Lord’s suffering and celebrate him for taking our place and ending our suffering. Let’s do this by observing Lent.
Come, Lord Jesus.