What is Lent

Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter.

During Lent, we enter into a season of preparation, self-reflection and repentance when we seek to literally “turn around” and realign our lives and focus toward God. It is a time to give up things as well as take on new life-giving practices, helping us rid ourselves of distractions and our own selfish desires. By doing so, we seek to live and love as more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Easter Season, also known as Eastertide or the Great Fifty Days, begins on Easter Day and ends 50 days later on Pentecost. Focusing on Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), Eastertide is the most joyous and celebrative season of the Christian year. We celebrate the good news that in Christ’s death and resurrection we, and all creation, are continually being made new by God’s love and saving grace.

A time for self-reflection and deepening one’s relationship with God in Jesus Christ. For many this season leading up to Easter will be weeks of giving up something they enjoy as a sign of contrition for mistakes they have made. Others will spend extra time in devotions and prayer, while a few more will carry a cross or nail in their pocket as a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for them and the whole world.

A a season of repentance. Most often we think of asking God for forgiveness from our sin, but that is only half of the story. Most sins include hurting others, which mattered to Jesus. He taught that if during worship if you “remember that your brother or sister has something against you… First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 CEB). Lent is a great time to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed. 

Ash Wednesday

The first day of Lent. It marks the beginning of a period of reflection and penance. In the Bible, sprinkling oneself with ashes was traditionally a sign of one’s sorrow for having committed sins. In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday also marked the beginning of preparation for the understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ. The particular symbolism of ashes for this day comes from a practice in the Roman Catholic churches in which the ashes from the palms used in the preceding year’s Palm Sunday celebration are blessed. With these ashes, the priest on the first day of Lent marks a cross on the forehead of each worshipper. This practice has become a part of Ash Wednesday services in many United Methodist churches.

 

50 days long?

Easter for Christians is not just one day, but rather a 50-day period. The season of Easter, or Eastertide, begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and ends on Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church (see Acts 2).

Easter is also more than just an extended celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In the early church, Lent was a season for new converts to learn about the faith and prepare for baptism on Easter Sunday. The initial purpose of the 50-day Easter season was to continue the faith formation of new Christians.

Today, this extended season gives us time to rejoice and experience what it means when we say Christ is risen. It’s the season when we remember our baptisms and how through this sacrament we are, according to the liturgy, “incorporated into Christ’s mighty acts of salvation.” As “Easter people,” we also celebrate and ponder the birth of the Church and gifts of the Spirit (Pentecost), and how we are to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

Fasting

There is a strong biblical base for fasting, particularly during the 40 days of Lent leading to the celebration of Easter. Jesus, as part of his spiritual preparation, went into the wilderness and fasted 40 days and 40 nights, according to the Gospels.

Fasting has been a part of Methodism from its early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting an important part of a Christian’s life and he fasted weekly. To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He believed it allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor. Wesley did advise caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile health.

Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction between fasting (limiting consumption of food and drink) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat.) Abstinence from meat one day a week is a universal act of penitence. It is important that you check with your physician before attempting a total fast (no food, water only) for more than 24 hours.

Lent is a very personal time of self-reflection, so The United Methodist Church does not have official guidelines on how individuals should observe Lent. Some choose to give up a certain food, however a spirit of fasting can include restriction of activities such as television watching, shopping or social networking. Some choose to give away clothing or possessions, give time by volunteering or increase time spent in prayer. We fast to reorient ourselves away from the distraction of those things and back toward God.

Lent Quiz

From UMC.ORG

1. What does the term ‘Lent,’ which comes from ‘lencten,’ mean?
Sacrifice
Time
Spring
March Madness

2. How were ashes imposed in the early church?
The shape of a cross was drawn on the forehead.
Ashes were smeared across closed eyelids.
Ashes were poured or sprinkled over the head.

3. Why do people give things up for Lent?
To follow the example of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.
To help us focus on prayer and devotions.
To give the acquired savings to the poor.
All of the above.

4. What snack food has significance during Lent?
Chocolate
Pretzels
Popcorn
All of the above.

5. Many people fast during Lent. How often did John Wesley fast?
Twice a week
Twice a month
Twice a year
Rarely
He did not fast.

6. Why does Lent last 40 days?
To represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, tempted by Satan.
To recall the 40 days and nights the earth was flooded in the Old Testament.
To remind us of the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert.

7. What do some United Methodists not sing at Lent?
Doxologies
Alleluia
“In the Garden”
The communion liturgy

8. Which hymn, based on St. Patrick’s prayer, would be a good Lenten devotion?
“Jesus Walked This Lonely Valley”
“Christ Beside Me”
“O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice”
“Come and Find the Quiet Centre”

9. True or false? Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
True
False

10. When early Methodists in America sat in a church on a mourner’s bench, they would:
Repent their sins
Experience a new birth
Rededicate themselves to Jesus
All of the above

 

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1. What does the term ‘Lent,’ which comes from ‘lencten,’ mean?
The correct answer is spring.
2. How were ashes imposed in the early church?
The correct answer is ashes were poured or sprinkled over the head.
3. Why do people give things up for Lent?
The correct answer is all of the above.
4. What snack food has significance during Lent?
The correct answer is pretzels.
5. Many people fast during Lent. How often did John Wesley fast?
The correct answer is twice a week.
6. Why does Lent last 40 days?
The correct answer is to represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, tempted by Satan.
7. What do some United Methodists not sing at Lent?
The correct answer is alleluia.
8. Which hymn, based on St. Patrick’s prayer, would be a good Lenten devotion?
The correct answer is “Christ Beside Me.”
9. True or false? Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
The correct answer is True.
10. When early Methodists in America sat in a church on a mourner’s bench, they would…
The correct answer is all of the above.

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