Preparation for Easter
In elementary school, I had several friends who were Catholic. As the Easter season approached, they would talk about what they were considering giving up for Lent. They entertained giving up their favorite candy, chocolate, or soft drinks. Sometimes it got a little deeper with things like time. Being a good little Southern Baptist, I didnâ€™t understand what they were talking about and why they had to give up anything. I had never done that.
Iâ€™ve learned a few things since then. However, I thought I would challenge myself to learn a little more. I hope you donâ€™t mind my sharing it with you. Perhaps I can add to your Easter knowledge base.
What is Lent?
Not all Christian churches observe Lent. Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Anglican denominations are more likely to observe the Lenten traditions. The Bible does not refer to the custom of Lent, although the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found throughout the Bible.
Lent began on Wednesday, February 22, this year and will end on Saturday, April 8. The exact dates change every year because of the movable Jewish feasts. Regardless, Ash Wednesday is always the first day of Lent in Western Christianity, followed by a 40-day period (excluding Sundays/Palm Sunday). The Saturday before Easter always concludes the Lenten season.
The word â€œLentâ€ is an old English word meaning â€˜lengthen.â€™ Lent is observed in the spring when the days begin to get longer.
The color purple associated with Lent suggests repentance and solemnity. A purple garment was placed on Jesus by the guard during his trial and beatings. A dual significance relates to Jesus as King. The color of royalty was purple since its deep, dark richness was more expensive to achieve through the dyeing process.
The 40-day (actually 46-day) period is meant to be a time of preparation, much like Advent is for Christmas. During this preparation for Easter, three things come into focus: prayer, fasting, and giving. Lent offers the opportunity to go deeper with God in personal reflection, remembering Christâ€™s life, death, suffering, and resurrection. Fasting, or giving something up, is an intentional act of self-denial. The sacrifice through fasting is meant to remind the individual of Jesusâ€™ sacrifice. Prayer, reading the Bible, or drawing nearer to God is encouraged in place of following oneâ€™s usual routine. Giving money or doing something good for others is a way to respond to Godâ€™s grace, generosity, and love.
Significant Days During Lent
Before the celebration of Ash Wednesday, many recognize Shrove Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Pancakes are often eaten on Shrove Tuesday with the idea of consuming rich foods like eggs and dairy in anticipation of the 40-day fast.
Ash Wednesday services involve priests rubbing the sign of the cross using ashes onto an individualâ€™s forehead. Why ashes? Because ashes symbolize repentance and death. We grieve for the sins we have committed and the separation of imperfect people from a perfect God. The tradition is meant to identify faithful followers of Jesus. I used to be jealous of my friends when they got their ashes.
Maundy Thursday is another significant day during Lent. This is the day before Good Friday which commemorates the night before Jesus died. On this day, Jesus shares the Passover meal with his disciples.
Good Friday is the day of Jesusâ€™ crucifixion and death. â€œGoodâ€ represents the death and sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf so that we can receive Godâ€™s forgiveness for our sins.
Easter Sunday follows three days later and is the joyful celebration of Jesusâ€™ resurrection, giving us hope of eternal life.
More About Fasting
The 40-day period for fasting and abstinence is an imitation of the fasting Jesus experienced in the wilderness before his public ministry began. It also represents the 40 years of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Each of these 40-day periods is about spiritual testing.
The first mention of a 40-day fast in preparation for Easter was in 325 A.D. in the Canons of Nicaea. Speculation is that the tradition evolved from the practice in the early church of baptismal candidates undergoing 40 days of fasting before their baptism at Easter. The period also served as a time of penance for grievous sinners who were excluded from Communion. As a sign of their penitence, they wore sackcloth and were sprinkled with ashes. Hence, Ash Wednesday.
Strict observers of Lent choose not to eat meat on Fridays. Fish is often eaten in its place. I remember in elementary school that fish was served on Fridays, usually fish sticks or tuna fish. High school, too. I didnâ€™t mind since I never ate fish any other time.
The Power to Rescue
Observing the Lenten season with prayer, fasting, and charity is a wonderful and worthwhile gesture, but they can never make us earn or deserve Jesusâ€™ sacrifice on the cross. We are flawed; Jesus is perfect. He bore the punishment for all our sin . . . forever. His resurrection on Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, allows us to have an eternal relationship with God. I have one. Do you?
Did you learn anything new?