The Supreme Court, Gay Rights and the Scalia Dissent

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 9 July 2003 0 Comments
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What do you make of the Season of Lent? How should the Christian Church observe it?


The season of Lent began as a time to instruct those preparing for baptism and confirmation on Easter Eve. It was modeled on the Jewish custom of preparing proselytes for the Passover. There was in the Jewish tradition, first a period of instruction, which some early sources suggest was as frequent as three times a week over a period of several months. This instruction was based on the teachings of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. Then the rite of circumcision was carried out. After a period of time to allow for healing came a ceremonial bath which prepared the proselytes to affirm their Jewish identity and to join in the Passover Meal.

The Christians adopted this plan, substituted the teachings of Jesus for that of Moses. They dropped the rite of circumcision, and proceeded to transform the ceremonial bath of the Jews into Christian baptism. This enabled the converts to join the Christian community at Easter and to share in the Eucharist, the Christianized version of the Passover. So Lent was born as a time for the preparation of converts prior to the Easter baptism and first Eucharist of the Easter Season.

As Christianity moved into Europe, and especially Northern Europe, the element of fasting was added to Lent. It was rather practical. Between late February and early April in Northern Europe, there was little to eat in those pre-refrigeration, pre-canned and pre-frozen food days. So the Church made a virtue out of reality and called on believers to mark Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness with a 40-day fast of their own.

Still later the idea of taking on something like a special Lenten study was added to enable the season mark a specific change of pace.

I have always enjoyed that change of pace, together with the solemnity of Lent and the inward time of reflection. I think it can still be a vital part of our contemporary spiritual journey.

John Shelby Spong




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