NOT having been brought up in a family that followed the religious calendar, I always thought Lent had something to do with borrowing and was quite puzzled when I first came across friends at school ‘giving things, and particularly sweets, up for Lent.’
In the 40’s sweets were rationed and hard enough to get at the best of times, so why give them up? And why should they be lent?
You’re not going to want them back after someone else has had a good chew, so why would you lend them?
Teachers, overhearing my confusion, patiently explained (religious education in school was permitted in those days) that Lent was a time of year when Christians remembered Jesus going into the desert, living without food for 40 days and being tempted by the Devil.
So, I was informed, we should give up things we enjoy so we could be like him and experience a little of what it felt like to go without food for six weeks.
At the time I recall being singularly unconvinced, offering to give up school, if that would help, and explaining that I didn’t have to stop eating the few sweets then available in order to experience temptation!
And still the term ‘Lent’ confused me as nobody could properly explain its meaning; the best explanation I could find being that it was a contraction of the word ‘Lengthen’ as in daylight lengthening at this time of year.
So ‘Lent,’ I gathered, was basically another word for spring, that wonderful time of year when we see new life springing up all around.
And yes, perhaps Lent isn’t such a bad name as it reminds us that we have little control on the length of our lives and are all actually living on borrowed time, lent to us by a caring God.
So as St Paul wrote to Christians living in Corinth ‘You don’t own your lives, for a high price has been paid for you’; the life, he explains, of Jesus, given that first Good Friday.
And it was in preparation for this that he fasted 40 days in the desert, a time we rightly remember during Lent.