Growing up Catholic, Lent was a big deal.
When I was a child I viewed Lent differently than I do now. The traditions of the Catholic Church were lost on me. I didn’t fully understand WHY we were practicing these traditions.
Now, as a believer in Jesus. I understand that Lent is an act of intentional worship and obedience for 40 days.
It’s almost like the Whole 30, only it’s the Whole 40 for your relationship with God. You are removing the bad, and focusing intently on Jesus. The result is more connection with and celebration of God.
So when we sat down with our Community Group a few years ago and began talking about Lent I was surprised that many of them knew very little about it. Or that there was little to no tradition around it. They weren’t sure how to practice Lent with their families. (Part of that conversation sparked inspiration for this post.)
Lent as a child meant a few things for me…
As a child, we missed school in the morning on Ash Wednesday to attend mass. There the priest would make the sign of the cross on our foreheads with ashes.
Some people would have an obvious cross, and others it looked more like a smudge. I remember walking back to my seat trying not to giggle and wondering what my ashes looked like.
Every Friday was pizza night, because during lent you are asked to fast from red meat on Fridays.
At CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, also known as Catholic Religious Education) we would study the Stations of the Cross. As we got older, in youth group, we would go through them in depth. The night was always very emotional and beautifully powerful.
Lent was an important part of our Easter Season as a Catholic. There was anticipation. Not in the same way that we are excited and wait for Christmas morning as a child. But almost. On Easter morning I got to dress up, hunt for Easter Eggs, and eat Jelly Beans and Chocolate before church!
While Lent was present in my life, it’s now more meaningful as a believer in Jesus Christ. It’s not something I do because I am told, “This is what we do.” It is something I choose to do because I love Jesus, and I want to worship, praise, and seek Him.
So I’m going to do a basic breakdown of Lent, and the key days on the calendar. This way if you know nothing about Lent you can see a big picture view. But I’m also going to talk about WHY those days are important. Because it’s so easy to be obedient without understanding why. I did that my whole childhood.
First, I will say Lent is not in the Bible.
It is important to remember that though Lent is not in the Bible, the practice of it is meant to reflect the life of Jesus.
But, it is a church tradition, primarily in the Catholic Church, but also in some Liturgical Protestant churches.
I know I’ve said it a few times already, but Lent is an act of worship, a season of fasting and prayer. It begins on Ash Wednesday (next Wednesday) and ends on Easter Sunday.
It lasts 40 days… does that sound familiar? It’s supposed to. Lent reflects the 40 days Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the desert. The 40 days in the wilderness where the devil tempted Him. The temptation took place after his baptism in the river and before his public ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11)
Ash Wednesday starts on March 6th this year. It comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. (To put it very simply, Penance is what you are given or experience in exchange for your confession of sins.) The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us.
As the priest puts the ashes on a person’s forehead, he says: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The ashes are made from blessed palm branches, taken from the previous year’s Palm Sunday Mass.
Can we just pause to see the beauty in that?
The ashes are made from the palms that the Catholics use the year before to celebrate palm Sunday. Talk about full circle.
I know I’m jumping ahead a bit, but Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent. It is the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. (Matthew 21:1-11)
Okay, back to the beginning, in the 40 days during the Lent season, you fast from food. You also give something up, which is another way of fasting.
I used to think you gave things up just so you could suffer like Jesus did.
But, it’s really less about the suffering and more about going to God in prayer when you feel tempted or are “suffering”. It’s about removing that temptation, and making your relationship with Jesus the priority instead.
A simple example is if I gave up watching the Bachelor for Lent …::GASP!::… and I really want to see who Colton chooses in the end… instead of turning on the TV, I choose to spend time in prayer or meditation. I grab my bible study or turn up worship music in the kitchen and sing His praises.
It’s not, “Well, I can’t watch the Bachelor tonight, I’m going to turn on Real House Wives and binge watch that!” Yay Lent! …No. Nope. No.
The point is not to stop doing something and to suffer, or redirect. It is to run to Jesus with your suffering. Make your relationship with Him the priority and authority.
For me, in addition to fasting from certain foods and/or activities or habits, I try to take something on. Something that draws me more near to Christ. Something that grows my relationship with Him.
Sometimes it’s a new Bible Study, sometimes it’s more time in prayer. Sometimes it’s a daily gratitude list or multiple memory verses.
Yes, I hear you asking, shouldn’t we always be making choices that draw us nearer to God? Yes, that would be ideal. BUT, we are flawed, sinful and oh-so-busy humans, aren’t we? The calendar and seasons of preparation are wonderful in helping us stop, and refocus our hearts on Jesus. Lent helps us to slow down and reflect as you prepare for Easter. The same way you prepare with Advent for Christmas.
Now, I mentioned before that Fridays are for fasting. Children typically don’t need to participate in this, though we did growing up with Pizza nights. But on Sunday you feast, as Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Christ. So Sunday is a day of indulgence during the Lent season because it’s a day of celebration. Not because it’s a day to rest from temptation.
The colors change in the church during the season. They are purple. Purple represents the mourning of Christ’s death, but also Royalty. He is our King!!
At the end of the Lent Season is Holy Week.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. It takes place one week before Easter where the church passes out palms to each member. I remember learning how to fold the palms into little crosses as a child. And every year my Mom still collects and makes palm crosses for my brothers and I.
If you look around my house, you can find a tiny one in each room. Kind of like a Where’s Waldo with Palm Sunday Crosses.
After Palm Sunday, is Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday is when we celebrate the last supper. There are no guidelines for this, but I like to read Matthew 26:17-30.
Next is Good Friday. The day that Jesus was trialed, suffered and crucified. (Matthew 27:11- 56) This was typically the day we went through the stations of the cross. Remember Mel Gibson’s movie, Passion of the Christ? This is what that entire movie was about. (I plan to elaborate on the Stations of the Cross more later in another post.)
On Saturday you wait…we never did anything overly strenuous on this day. And I don’t believe there are any true guidelines for this, but it remains a day of fasting till noon. This is a great day to read Matthew 27:57-66.
Finally after 40 days of fasting, and drawing nearer to Christ we celebrate Easter Sunday! The day that is the most powerful day in the Christian faith.
Without the empty tomb, we have nothing to celebrate. The empty tomb is literally EVERYTHING.
The empty tomb is Jesus’s victory over Satan, sin and death. It’s our salvation. Without the empty tomb Christ was a miracle worker, but not the Son of God. All the prophecies were fulfilled and all the sins of Christians were and are forgiven because of the empty tomb.
Matthew 28:5-6 says, “But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He is risen, as He said.”
THIS is why Easter is such a celebration! And Lent is a way to celebrate with a prepared, focused, intentional heart.
Very important side note:
I want to say that, to me, Lent is not legalistic. Though there are many traditions within it. It’s not required to be a Christian. It’s not what is going to save you. To me, it’s a beautiful act of worship. A way to draw near to God and celebrate what Christ has done for us, how He was the ultimate sacrifice for sins.
That’s why I love Lent.
I’ll post on MONDAY (instead of Thursday) next week. It will have some ways and tools to celebrate Lent with your family, along with a few verses to meditate on or memorize. I want to post it on Monday so that you’ll have some time to pray over what will challenge you. So that you’ll have time to prepare for the coming season.
Remember the purpose of Lent is to grow in your relationship with Jesus. To be intentional and to worship. Worship through struggle and through obedience. Worship instead of giving into temptation.