It may not be quite as familiar as it once was, but the question ‘what are you going to give up for Lent?’ still finds its place in the secular publications of the 21st century. A recent newspaper article suggested that for those who feel like they have been “over-doing it recently and need something to help you kick the habit - albeit temporarily - then giving something up for Lent might be just the answer you're looking for” The Scotsman, Feb 2021
We may not quite echo the words from the Scotsman but Christians are still left wondering whether the forty days of Lent should be embraced as a helpful spiritual discipline in the quest for holiness or rejected as an unnecessary and unhelpful religious feast. Observation of Lent has certainly been a feature of the Christians landscape for centuries. There is evidence that it started as a time to prepare new converts for baptism; and some say that it was later mentioned in the 20 practical canons that emerged from the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Others would say that the history of Lent is impossible to reconstruct. But however it emerged, it has long been a time open to confusion and misunderstanding.
When dealing with the misconceptions of fasting, Calvin wrote of the ‘Seeds of superstition’ that were sown which ‘furnished the occasion of the tyranny which afterward arose.’ He continued:
At that time the superstitious observance of Lent has prevailed everywhere, because the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ.