Lent is the season leading up to Easter, and they are two separate church seasons, just as Advent and Christmas are separate. While Lent is not popular in the secular world, it is actually one of the most important times of year for Christians.
What is Lent? When does it start? What is “fasting” during Lent?
Lent is the six week period leading up to Easter. The forty days of Lent represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan.
While Advent is a celebration and a time of great anticipation, Lent is traditionally understood to be a time of penitence (repentance) as Christians reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus.
From its start on Ash Wednesday until its conclusion on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for solemn reflection as we identify with Jesus’ suffering and death. Just as we carefully prepare for events in our personal lives, such as a wedding, or birthday; a commencement Lent invites us to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
When does Lent start?
Because Lent follows the liturgical calendar, the exact date that Lent falls each year changes. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is always held 46 days (40 fasting days and 6 Sundays) before Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday this year falls on February 17th, 2021.
What do Christians do during Lent?
These days, Christians around the world observe Lent in different ways. Many from more orthodox and traditional denominations will still observe the fast strictly, beginning with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday and abstinence of meat, fish, eggs and fats until Easter Sunday.
Others will choose to give up just one item for Lent, more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. It is also becoming increasingly common for people to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time; such as TV, going to the gym, even social media.
Many Christians also use Lent to study their Bibles and pray more intensively, making use of the many devotional books and courses now available. Others use simple daily reflections and acts of generosity as a way of putting others first during preparations for Easter.
Sundays during Lent are very important to Christians around the world. Where the Monday-to-Saturday of each of the six weeks are concerned with fasting and abstinence, the Sundays are a celebration symbolic of Christ’s resurrection. Instead of fasting, Christians hold feasts in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.
Why is Ash Wednesday called Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday begins Lent. The day gets its name from the traditional blessing of the ashes taken after the burning of Palm branches (or crosses made from Palm leaves) from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. In some churches the ashes are used to draw a cross on the head of people to mark the beginning of their Lent fast.
What is Holy Week?
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week – the last week of Lent leading up to Easter. On Palm Sunday Christians everywhere remember Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. Church services will often include a procession of palm branches, symbolic of the ones laid at Jesus’ feet as he rode into the city. Palm crosses will also be distributed on this day, to be kept until the following year’s Ash Wednesday as a reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As Holy Week draws to a close and Easter approaches, we have Holy Wednesday, commemorating Judas Iscariot’s intent to betray Jesus; Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples in which he predicts his betrayal by the following denial by Peter; and Good Friday, the day on which Christians around the world remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
With Good Friday over, Christians look forward to Easter Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from his tomb.
Resources for Lent
Looking for interesting resources to accompany you this Lenten Season? This year we suggest any of the following:
- Biola University's The Lent Project - This has become somewhat of a recent tradition for us to step through this Lent calendar. Sign up via email to receive daily devotional reflections featuring a satisfying mix of prayers, prose, music and visual art, to step through Jesus' journey to the cross through Lent and eventually Easter.
- The Work of the People - Selected Film Series - These thematic short film sessions on Lent are artfully put together and are also nice to step through individually, or with your family, or as a group that you can round up together.
Some suggestions on what to give up (“fasting”) for Lent
These 10 (unconventional) ideas for Lent are for you (and your family, if they’re interested!). There are many things that you can give up for Lent as an expression of our desire to invite Jesus into our lives, especially during these next 6 weeks, as we reflect on the unfathomable love and sacrifice He displayed on the cross for all of humanity.
This is also a great time to spread love, goodness, and kindness to the world, and be a reflection of Jesus where we are. It can go beyond “not eating ice cream” or “not having candy”..
I encourage you to reflect on how Lent can be meaningful to you. The following ideas are only suggestions, so feel free to tailor them to what suits you! Plus, you are not limited to doing just one thing...why not try a few? :)
1. Don’t buy anything that you don’t NEED.
If you can live without it, you don’t need it. Give it up for Lent. Put the money that you would have spent into a jar. You will be surprised at how quickly you build up your savings.
Tip: Once you see how much you saved after the 40 days, split it into two groups: saving & donating. Don’t spend it. You worked too hard!
2. Declutter & Simplify 40 things for 40 days
Every day, you walk around your house and collect 40 things to donate or throw away… every day, until Lent ends.
Tip: Try donating, because you are helping others.
3. No Gossiping or negative talk
Give up gossiping and negative talk for Lent. That means you cannot do any gossiping. None!
Tip: If someone says something negative about another person, either say something nice or don’t say anything at all. You would think this is going to be SO easy, but when you can’t say anything negative about anyone else, you realize how often it happens, sadly.
4. Work out daily to take care of the body God gave you
Spend this time focusing on taking care of the body that God gave you. For Lent, commit to doing some kind of workout every single day. You can go on a walk or join a gym, or even workout at home.
Tip: Team up with a workout buddy! It’s more fun and also helps to keep each other motivated!
5. Don’t Snack on Junk Food After Dinner
This one can be hard for many, but it can provide a glimpse of how Jesus struggled when he was hungry.
Tip: Remove temptation! If you know seeing it will make you crave it, put it away (or tell someone to hide it!). Prep ahead of time healthy alternatives for when the craving hits!
6. Give Up Your Favourite Sweets
If you normally have artificial sugar in some form at least once a day, this is a tough one! Sugary foods are so common that we don’t even think about it half the time (e.g. baked goods, desserts, bubble teas, specialty coffees, soft drinks, even fruit juice--if you’re willing to go that far!).
Tip: Plan ahead...if you know you need a sugar-hit in the afternoon to get you through the rest of the day, make sure you have a healthy substitute ready!
7. Say 3 Nice Things to Your Family Members Daily
You may think this is easy, but try to say things that aren’t the normal “Thanks,” or “You look nice,” or “Good job.” Try to do 3 out-of-the-box things during Lent this year.
Tip: Try, “Thanks for letting me use your phone/laptop”, or “I appreciate you cooking dinner for us”, or “Thanks for helping me put away the dishes”, or “I love how you always help the kids,” or “I love how you work hard on your homework, even when it is tough tonight. You are a hard worker.”
8. Don’t Eat Out for 40 Days
Try to make easy meals or search for doable recipes online. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself with harder dishes! With Covid restrictions in place, this is a safe alternative to dining out!
Tip: After you go through it once, start over again… this will give you an arsenal of 40+ days worth of meals!
9. Replace 30 Minutes of TV/Screen Time with 30 Extra Minutes of Devotion/Prayer
Read a devotional or bible story on your own, with a friend or with your family. Have a discussion together about it!
Tip: Try journaling down your thoughts and any prayers that come to mind! This is a great way to keep a record of your spiritual journey, and have concrete evidence of how the Lord has been walking with you!
10. Reach Out to Give Encouragement to Someone Daily
We all know someone, whether a friend, family member, relative or coworker, who could use some encouragement. Why not make it a daily mission to bring joy to others? Send a kind word through email, text message or even a care package to show you’re thinking of them.
Tip: Make a list of people you want to reach out to. If you run out of people, you can always reach out to the same person more than once! Plus, it means more to follow up with people too!
Joel 2:12-13 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
May your Lenten journey be a meaningful time spent with Jesus!
~Blessings from your friends at New Life Chinese Lutheran Church