WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.
The word 'Lent' comes from the word for Spring. It is the period of 40 days leading up to Easter, the most important festival in the Christian calendar. During Lent, Christians remember the time when Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray before beginning his ministry.
JESUS IN THE DESERT
Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days to fast and pray, all alone apart from the wild beasts and birds of the desert. At the end of this time, he was exhausted and faint from hunger. Then the Devil came to tempt him. “if you really are the Son of God,” he said, “turn these stones into bread!”
“Man cannot live by bread alone,” Jesus replied, “but must find strength from God’s words.”
Satan made a second attempt. Changing the scene to Jerusalem, he led Jesus up to the highest point of the Temple roof. “Throw yourself down from here,” he said. “We are told that the Son of God is surrounded by angels, and cannot come to any harm.”
“The Scriptures say that you shall not put God to the test.” Jesus replied.
Then the Devil took Jesus to the top of a high mountain, and from there showed him all the kingdoms of the world. “I will make you Lord of all these lands, if you will only kneel down and worship me,” he said.
“Get thee behind me, Satan!” Jesus shouted. “It is God alone you should worship!”
At these words, the Devil disappeared, knowing he was defeated.
WHAT DO PEOPLE DO?
Lent is a time of giving things up. For Christians, it is one way of remembering the time Jesus' fasted in the desert and is a test of self-discipline.
While few people actually fast these days, there are foods that some Christians choose not eat in Lent, such as meat and fish, fats, eggs, and rich foods. Others just give up something they really enjoy, such as cakes or chocolate, as a gesture of self-denial. And it doesn't have to be food related - it could be computer games or television.
Rather than give something up, some people choose to do something extra, like taking on a chore to help at home, collecting money for charity or doing some voluntary work. Here is an example: “One year for Lent I wrote a letter each day. I made a list of 40 people who had touched my life in one way or another. Each day of Lent, I wrote a person on the list a letter of thanks for how they touched my life and I prayed for that person on that day ... it was a wonderful experience!” Patty
Many churches run Lent courses for people to get together and learn more about God (and often about themselves). It is a time for thinking about and saying sorry for the things we have done wrong, and what we can do better. Another Lenten tradition is the Stations of the Cross, a series of painings or sculptures depicting the last few hours of Jesus' life. Typically placed at intervals along the walls of a church, they offer a focus for prayer and reflection during Lent, particularly on Good Friday.
What will you do for Lent this year?
The day before Lent begins is Shrove Tuesday. We also know it as Pancake Day. This day was traditionally the last chance to use up the rich foods Christians would not be eating during Lent and would otherwise spoil.
Festivities take place in many cities all over the world, including Mardi Gras ('fat Tuesday') in New Orleans, USA, and Carnaval ('no meat') in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. People dress up, wear masks, parade and dance in the streets. These events attract millions of visitors each year.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent for western Christians. Occurring 46 days before Easter, it finishes on Easter Saturday, although in the Roman Catholic Church, Lent finishes on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Why 46 days? Lent includes six Sundays, which are not counted as part of the 40 day fasting period as all Sundays are feast days in memory of Jesus' resurrection.
On Ash Wednesday many churches hold services, during which Christians are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes. This is a sign of saying sorry to God for any wrongdoing (penitence) and as a reminder of human mortality. The ashes come from burning the palm crosses from Palm Sunday of the previous year.
THE COLOURS OF LENT
Purple or violet, the colours of penance and humility are the usual colours for Lent. Grey, the colour of ashes, is sometimes used an alternative on Ash Wednesday, and red, symbolising Jesus’ blood might be used on Good Friday. However the colour for Easter Day is white or gold, symbolising joy and triumph.
Some churches use a roughly-hewn wooden cross as a focal point throughout Lent. Many churches do not have flowers during Lent, reintroducing them at Easter (often to great effect) with a flowering cross.
WHY IS THE NUMBER 40 SIGNIFICANT?
We know that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before he began his ministry, and this is the number associated with Lent. But the number 40 crops up time and time again in the Bible. Here are a few more examples:
In the book of Genesis, we are told that after Noah had built the ark it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.
In Exodus, we hear about Moses spending 40 days on the mountain, when he received the Ten Commandments. We also read that the Israelites spent 40 years wandering the wilderness before they finally reached the Promised Land.
In the first book of Kings, we find that Elijah spent 40 days travelling to Mount Horeb, going back to where Moses had been several hundred years before.
Jonah warns the people of Nineveh that the city will be destroyed in 40 days unless they mend their ways.
In the New Testament, we also learn that Jesus was seen for 40 days on Earth after his resurrection before he is taken up to heaven. One theory is that Jesus also spent 40 hours in the tomb before his resurrection
In fact, the number 40 is mentioned 146 times in the Bible. The number symbolises trial and testing, so it is little wonder that it is the number associated with Lent