How Did Lent Get Its Name?

March 12, 2008
by Iris Ford

Hebrews 10:19-23 – Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way … let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. … Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (NIV)

The weeks of Lent have been for me a season of reflection. It's been a journey out of darkness, and I am thankful the sunrise is coming soon. Forty days is a long time to struggle with evil, tempted to feel discouragement, worrying over ill health. How does God control my blood pressure? How do I let go? Does Lent hold a special meaning for me this year?

Where did "Lent" get its name? I have learned that the word "Lent" originally meant "springtime" and comes from the same root as the word "lengthen". So, Lent is from an old word used as the days grew longer. In Canada, spring finds the days lengthening. The sun is slowly warming everything again. Creaky, painful old bones ease their aching, and depression lifts, as that lovely, fresh new green touches every living thing. It all reminds me of the continual renewal in my life that faith in Jesus gives. Each day dawns anew with joy and hope of new life to come. This is Lent for me.

How did forty days get associated with Lent? In antiquity, the forty-day duration was obviously taken from Jesus' forty days of temptation in the wilderness prior to beginning his public ministry, detailed in Matthew 4:1-11. From Jesus' struggle, we know Lent to be a time for reflection on our struggle against the powers of evil. We are tempted to think we can do anything in our own power; yet this is the first step to self-worship. It also is the time when, as we struggle, we learn not to place our trust in fame and fortune.

I remember the early days in my first parish. I was the first woman minister to come to town, and of course, my picture hit the front page. One of my first temptations was to think of myself more highly than I ought to think. During this Lenten season, have we given up the desire for acclaim? Has it been a time of humble reflection on our true worth? Do we now know the true cost to our pride that following Jesus demands?

Today's Scripture from Hebrews 10:19-23 is a wonderful guide for some Lenten reflection at a deeper and deeper level. Now we have confidence to enter God's presence humbly, because we see now that it is the blood of Jesus that purifies our hearts of the sin of pride. The curtain between God and us has opened, revealing a new and living way — a wonderful springtime of the soul, and our risen Lord is here.

Prayer: O God, as Lent draws to a close, we draw near to Jesus with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Together, with all your people, we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. Jesus, our risen Lord, is here. Amen.

About the author:

Iris Ford
Parksville, British Columbia, Canada

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