Christianity: What is Lent?

For those who are curious as to what Lent is all about, ….and for those that wonder why some people walked around with dirty foreheads on Wednesday.

What is Lent?

Lent is a 40-day season of the church year that runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week.  Lent’s Bible readings, hymns, and worship focus on the ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus.

Why do we need Lent?

As the Bible says,

All have sinned, and fall short of God’s standard.
Romans 3:23

Some sins seem bigger than others because their obvious consequences are much more serious.  The sin of murder, for example, seems to us to be worse than hatred, or adultery seems worse than pride, or stealing is worse than using the Lord’s name when cursing.  Don’t minimize “little sins” or overrate “big” sins.

There is no sin greater than another in that sin’s nature has one significant consequence – it destroys our relationship with God.  It blocks our ability to receive God’s grace into our lives.  They all separate us from God, …..but they all can be forgiven.

So, the season of Lent recalls for us how God, in his mercy, sent his Son, Jesus, to take our sins upon himself and receive sin’s punishment by dying on the cross for us (all of humankind sins, including you and I), so that we might be forgiven, and granted life in Heaven forever with Him.

What does “Ash” in Ash Wednesday mean?

Parishioners receive a cross of ashes on the forehead on the first day of Lent, and are reminded,

For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return.
Genesis 3:19

This is to remind us that life is very temporary and short for we all shall die, and to remind us as to how we came into being as we see in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life.  And the man became a living person.”

(And of course, woman came from man as we see in Genesis 2:21, “So the Lord God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep.  He took one of Adam’s ribs, and closed-up the place from which he had taken it.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and brought her to Adam.”  And that’s the reason, of course, why a man has one less rib than a woman.)

Why does Lent last 40 days?

The Bible says Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his formal ministry.  And this is explained, for instance, in the Gospel of Mark which was written to the Christians in Rome, while he was there in that city, and was written to present the person, work, and teachings of Jesus.

This first part is about Jesus’ birth, and his preparation for this ministry.  In this part is where John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, and later baptizes Jesus.  He was then sent into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit – he left the crowds, and went into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan.

He was there for forty days, being tempted by Satan.
Mark: 1:13

So, Lent’s 40 days (not including Sundays) signify that this is a period of preparation, a time when we ready our hearts to remember Jesus’ suffering, and death, for our salvation.

Why does Lent begin at different times each year?

Lent precedes Easter.  Easter, a date which changes from year to year, is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  (Equinox is when time is equal day and night, around March 21st and September 23rd.)

This is done to parallel the Jewish lunar calendar, and its observance of the Passover.

What is Passover?

Passover is a holiday on the Jewish calendar, traditionally lasting 8 days, commemorating the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt after the angel of death “passed over” their homes, the doorposts of which were covered in the blood of a lamb.

For further information, go to http://www.majorreligions.com/jewish_holidays.php#2 , and scroll down to Passover.

In Lent, we celebrate freedom from sin’s slavery and death’s power through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

Why do people give-up different things for Lent?

The long-standing practice of denying ourselves something during Lent is a way for us to better understand the sacrifice Christ made for us.  Therefore, the forty days in Lent are marked by fasting, both from food and festivities, and by other acts of penance (repentance of sins).

The three traditional practices to be taken-up with renewed vigor during Lent are: prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor).  Today, some people give-up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time, or money spent, doing that to chartiable either pruposes or organizations.

Why is purple the color of Lent?

Purple signifies repentance.

After Jesus was tried by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, he turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip (local law called for a maximum of 40 lashes, just short of bringing death), and then to crucify him.

The soldiers took him into their headquarters, and called out the entire battalion.

They dressed him in a purple robe, and made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head.  Then they saluted, yelling “Hail!  King of the Jews!” 

And they beat him on the head, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship.
Mark 15: 17 – 19

Lent is a season centered around the confession of our sins, our desire to amend our sinful lives, and God’s willingness to forgive us through the cross of Christ so that we may have eternal life in Heaven.

Why do we stop using “alleluia” during Lent?

Refraining from using “alleluia” (an ancient word meaning “Praise the Lord”) during Lenten worship reminds us that Lent is a somber season of reflection on Christ’s suffering …and death.  “Alleluia” is reintroduced on Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

Some churches even have an “alleluia” banner that is taken out of the sanctuary on the Sunday before Lent starts, and returned on Easter Sunday.

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week is the 7-day period at the end of Lent which is the culmination of the entire season. 

Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday recount for us Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his Last Supper with his disciples, and his Passion (suffering), death and burial before the joy of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

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Palm Sunday is the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, Palm Sunday, often referred to as “Passion Sunday,” marks the beginning of Holy Week, which concludes on Easter Sunday.

The Bible reveals that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds greeted him with waving palm branches, and by covering his path with palm branches. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the ministry of Jesus, he begins his journey to the cross.

Maundy Thursday.  This is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “commandment.”  Maundy refers to the commands Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: to love with humility by serving one another, and to remember his sacrifice.

Maundy Thursday is observed during Holy Week on the Thursday before Easter.  Also referred to as “Holy Thursday” or “Great Thursday” in some Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he was crucified.

In contrast to joyful Easter celebrations when Christians worship their resurrected Savior, Maundy Thursday services are typically more solemn occasions, marked by the shadow of Jesus’ betrayal.

While different denominations observe Maundy Thursday in their own distinct ways, two important biblical events are the primary focus of Maundy Thursday solemnizations:

  1. Before the Passover meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. By performing this lowly act of service, the Bible says in John 13:1 that Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love.”  By his example, Jesus demonstrated how Christians are to love one another through humble service.  For this reason, many churches practice foot-washing ceremonies as a part of their Maundy Thursday services.
  2. During the Passover meal, Jesus took bread and wine and asked his Father to bless it. He broke the bread into pieces, giving it to his disciples and said,

“This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Then after supper, he took the cup of wine, shared it with his disciples, and said,

“This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you–an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.”

These events recorded in Luke 22:19-20 describe the Last Supper, and form the biblical basis for the practice of Communion.  For this reason, many churches hold special Communion services as a part of their Maundy Thursday celebrations.  Likewise, many congregations observe a traditional Passover Seder meal.

Good Friday.  This is the day that Jesus was flogged and then  crucified; so, on this day Christians commemorate his suffering, and death, on the cross.  Good Friday is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday.  This day is also known as Holy Friday and Great Friday.

Many Christians spend this day in fasting, prayer, repentance, and meditation on the agony and suffering of Christ on the cross.

The biblical account of Jesus’ death on the cross, or crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection, or raising from the dead, can be found in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 27:27 thru 28:8; Mark 15 thru 16:19; Luke 23:26 thru 24:35; and John 19:16 thru 20:30.
For study of these verses: www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-Living-Translation-NLT-Bible/

Easter.  Easter is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ from the dead.  This day is also known as Easter Day, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, and Resurrection Sunday.

Matthew wrote one of the accounts.  He had been with Jesus during his entire ministry, and he wrote his Gospel some 30 years later.

Early Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake, because an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it.

His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow.  The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He has risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.  Come, see where his body was lying.

And now, go quickly and tell his disciples he has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.  Remember, I have told you.”

Matthew 27:1 – 7
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