Lent is a season of the Christian Year when Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.
What is Lent?
Lent is the 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays, because every Sunday is like a little Easter. It is roughly one-tenth of the year, like a tithe of time.
Lent begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. This year, that’s March 1 to April 16.
Mardi Gras is translated to “Fat Tuesday”. It is a part of the Lent season in that it occurs the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, Christians celebrate Lent by fasting, so on Fat Tuesday, they cleaned out their cupboards by making a huge feast with all the meat and sugar they had in the house in order to reduce temptation over the following season.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday by recognizing their mortality and need for God, and repenting of their sins. We take the time to make a resolution that will help us to be more like Christ. Often, this is done by abstaining from something for forty days, or by committing to do something that will bring us closer to Him. In an Ash Wednesday service, a priest of pastor will mark the sign of the cross on a person’s head with ashes. Ashes are a sign in Christian and Jewish history of repentance and mortality. The cross is a reminder of Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness.
Ways to Celebrate
After Jesus was baptized, he went into the desert for 40 days to fast, and returned to begin his ministry. It is speculated that he was refocusing his attention on God in order to prepare for the work ahead of him. We participate in Lent to remember his example, and to focus our eyes on God. Lent is often associated with giving something up, but there are many ways to take part in this tradition. Here are some ideas from The Upper Room’s Lent 101 page:
Lent is a great time to “repent” — to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It’s a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. You might try one of these practices for Lent:
FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that’s not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from candy, tv, soft drinks, cigarettes or meat as a way to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality tv to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. What do you need to let go of or “fast” from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat, wear or do? Learn more about or design a fast. (Check out this article for ideas on Family Time Lenten Sacrifices.)
SERVICE: Some Christians take something on for Christ. You can collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to tutor children, or work for reform and justice in your community. You can commit to help a different stranger, co-worker or friend every day of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God. Learn how giving of yourself is prayer.
PRAYER: Christians also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with God.
Top Ten ways to participate in Lent
10. Try an electronic fast. Give up TV, Facebook, texting, tweeting, e-mail and all things electronic for one day every week. (Or everyday of Lent!) Use the time to read & pray. Learn about fasting. (Learn more about media fasts.)
9. Start a prayer rhythm. Each day of Lent, go to The Upper Room’s prayer wall and pray for another person.
8. Go deeper into the Bible. Take the online course, Worship In Light of the Cross.
7. Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it (maybe even yourself.) Study a book on forgiveness, such as Forgiveness, the Passionate Journey.
6. Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Let Juliana’s Ice Cream Fast inspire you to give up some food or drink as a way to grow closer to God. Give the money you save to help folks in a different part of the world who are in crisis. Pick a current global issue and help change the world.
5. Create a daily quiet time. Spend 10 minutes a day in silence and prayer. Read a daily devotional for the season of Lent. See how it can help you add spiritual practice to your daily life beyond Lent.
4. Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way. Learn more about spiritual practice of gratitude.
3. Participate in a Lent Photo-a-Day practice and pray each day with your camera in your hand. Start praying.
2. Volunteer one hour or more each week with a local shelter, tutoring program, nursing home, prison ministry. Learn about the global issues and how you can help.
1. Pray for others you see as you walk as you walk to and from classes or drive to and from work. Download the Nimbus Prayer app and pray as you go through your day.
Readings for each week begin on Thursday. Thursday – Saturday readings prepare you for the Sunday reading. Monday – Wednesday readings help you reflect on the Sunday reading.
Holy Week (Apr. 10-16)
Monday begins special passages for Holy Week and continues with reflection passages through the following Wednesday.