Prior to Constantine, when the church was outlawed and, with some regularity, systematically persecuted, the reception of members was a rigorous and risky proposition. Those wishing to become "hearers" (catechumens), were brought by sponsors who could vouch for them. Thereupon began a three-year period of prayerful instruction that concluded with intensive examination, with exorcism and fasting.
In an act of solidarity, others would join this fast anticipating the Easter Vigil. From these fasts, accounted variously in different places, the Lenten season of 40 days (echoing Jesus' struggle with the powers of death in the wilderness) was developed.
Lent arose from the confessional rigors of baptismal preparation. In that respect, it's fitting that the Hebrew Bible readings for this year should trace the history of covenant in Israel. Here they inform our own repentance and baptismal covenant. And they serve as a powerful subtext for Jesus' question on the road to Jerusalem: "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
BILL WYLIE KELLERMANN, a Sojourners contributing editor, is a United Methodist pastor and the author of Seasons of Faith and Conscience (Orbis, 1991).
February 6: A Day in the Life
Psalm 147:1-11, Job 7:1-7, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39
A day in the life of Job is all too familiar. I think immediately of folks who come to the local Catholic Worker soup kitchen, some with Job's chronic sores and parasites. I'd recognize him with my eyes closed - a certain odor attends.