Lent comes from the old English word for spring and has historically been celebrated by Christians from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday each calendar year. Our friends at The Village Church in Texas have provided the following guide for lent. This is a great opportunity for us to give something up for a season and to prepare our ourselves for Easter, which happens on April 21st this year.
The word “Lent” can invoke a number of thoughts, questions and feelings, depending on your background with the Church. If you grew up in an evangelical church, you probably think of it as some strange Catholic tradition, where folks put ashes on their foreheads and give up different kinds of foods every year. If you grew up in a liturgical tradition, you may have had a good experience or, perhaps, you file it away in the junk drawer of legalism given some bad experiences. Whatever the case, Lent doesn’t have to be seen as either rote or mystifying. Like the rest of the seasons, it can be seen rightly and faithfully when understood through the lens of Jesus—the one true story of the Bible.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which kicks off 40 days of prayer and fasting— representing Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, during which we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Last Supper with His disciples (Maundy Thursday) and His death on the cross (Good Friday). The season officially ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
It’s a season to prepare for the joy and hope of Easter. It is a time for the Church to symbolically follow Christ into the wilderness. It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself. It is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel.
In a culture inundated by individualism and hedonism, with rhythms and practices that turn our desires toward the things we think we need, Lent turns our desires toward Jesus, the only thing we truly need, helping us trade lesser loves for His greater love. When we enter into the story of Jesus, symbolically walking with Him through the desert and to the cross, we move from self-gratification to self-denial. As we embrace the pain and sorrow of Jesus, we turn away from our sin and toward the Savior.
Originally a preparation period for those desiring to be baptized, Lent lasts 46 days, including Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The 40 days (excluding Sundays) have obvious biblical parallels in the flood narrative (Gen. 6-8), the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai (Exod. 24:12-18) and Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-12). But the most relevant parallel is the account of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-12; Luke 4:1-13).
On Ash Wednesday we remember our mortality and the idea that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. In many churches, individuals celebrate Ash Wednesday by placing ash on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, representing entrance into a time of denial, repentance and humility. But many simply choose to use candles to create a Lent cross. This cross is typically formed by seven small tealights. Each evening, all seven candles are lit, and one is extinguished for each week of Lent that passes.
Here are some ways you can participate in Lent this year with us:
- Create a cross out of tea lights, progressively extinguishing one candle for each week of Lent during a devotional time.
- Fast one day a week and set aside that meal time(s) to pray.
- Give something up you enjoy. Each time you desire it, reflect on how Jesus Christ has provided everything we ultimately need for our joy and satisfaction. This could be something like: coffee, alcohol, tobacco, sweets, TV, movies, social media or any number of things.
- Spend a day in solitude and silence reflecting on your dependence as a creature and all Jesus went through in His human life in order to save His people.
- Do a service project and reflect on all the good works Jesus did while on earth and continues to do for His people.