Why Observe Lent and Easter?

S. R. Jones
Rockford, Ill.

This question has been asked many times and has not very generally been given, much consideration. The term "Lent" is derived from OE lencten, "Spring," probably the same root from which we get the word "long." A religious sect of the thirteenth century known as the Western Cathars, observed three lents in the year and also fasted on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week. There arose much confusion among the ecclesiastics regarding the time, length and rigor of the fast, during the early centuries. The first recorded instance of ecclesiastical (not inspired) legislation concerning fasting occurred around 325 A.D.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th edition, Vol. XIII, p. 923, says: "Of the Lenten fast of Quadragesima, the first mention is in the fifth canon of the council of Nicea (325 A.D.) . . . in, this season fasting played a part, but it was Dot universally nor rigorously enforced."

Lent is supposed to be a fast of forty days, five days a week for eight weeks preceding Easter. The New Testament is singularly free from prolonged fasting. It is true that Jesus underwent an apparently absolute fast for a period of forty days, but He never required any one else to do so. There is nothing about the fasting spoken of in the New Testament in connection with certain. occasions to indicate it was a prolonged fast, nor is there any discrimination about kinds of food intimated. The early church was practically free of all fasting for the first two hundred years of the Christian era.

Sir William Cecil under Elizabeth wrote in a statute passed by Parliament in 1563: "Whoever shall preach that eating fish or forbearing flesh is for the saving of the soul of man, or f or the service of God, shall be punished as the spreader of false news."

If it is necessary and helpful in keeping Lent to pray more earnestly, worship publicly in church more frequently, practice self -denial, go without certain foods that we like, do Pot eat confections, stop smoking at least in a degree, stop playing cards, refrain from dancing and other public amusements, and try hard to be unusually earnest and zealous for these forty days, why is it not good also for the other 325 days ?

As for Easter the annual festival observed in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, the name Easter is a survival from the old Teutonic mythology, "According to Bede (De Temp. Rat. c. xv.) it is derived from Eostre, or Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month answering to our April, and called Eostur-monath, was dedicated." (Enc. Brit.)

Easter day is usually figured as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. This, of course, varies in different longitudes. There has been much dissention and various ways of keeping the date of Easter; the controversy even led to much bloodshed. This question of celebrating Easter was one among other reasons for the calling of the council of Nicea. Referring again to the 14th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. VII, P. 859:

"The Council of Nicea, held in, A.D. 325, decided that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday, but we are left with a method of fixing the date of Easter by which it can vary from year to year by no less than 35 days, between March 22 and April 25. The date is fixed in accordance with the tables prepared by Clavius for Pope Gregory XIII, when he reformed the calendar on February 24, 1582, and is an attempt to reconcile the solar with the lunar year, on the Metonic system, with all the complications of the week, the month, the exact and an inexact calendar. The tables occasionally produce strange results. In, 1923 the full moon of the heavens fell on the Sunday given by the tables for the celebration of Easter; and the resurrection, going by the real moon, was being celebrated before the crucifixion."

Attempts to fix the date of Easter have been undertaken by Chambers of Commerce, national and international, since 1900. It was also studied by the League of Nations.

"The supporters of the reform point cut that the celebration of the birth of our Lord was fixed in the fourth century by enactment for Dec. 25, thus consecrating the old Saturnalia of Rome to the new religion and that, this having been done, there is no good reason why the celebration of the Death and Resurrection should vary 35 days in accordance with a fictitious moon.

"In 1928 again the question of a Fixed Easter bill was raised in parliament and a referendum to various European countries was advised. As a result of the League of Nations Committee of 1923, the Easter Act was passed in England, Aug. 1928, fixing Easter Day, conditionally upon international acceptance, as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April." (Enc. Brit. Vol. 7, p. 860.)

God said to the Jews through Isaiah: "Your new moons and your appointed fasts my soul hateth; they are a, trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them." (Isa. 1:14). The Apostle Paul gives us some good advice through the Spirit. "Now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, wherewith ye desire to be in bondage over again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain." (Gal. 4:9-11.) "Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day." (Col. 2:16).

Truth Magazine I:7, pp. 1, 22-23
April 1957