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. See our Shrove Tuesday page to find out more.
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.
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
Stations are places where people wait while they are going from one place to another, for example train stations or bus stations or airports. Think of some stations where you have been.
Stations of the Cross are places where people take time to think about Jesus in the last few hours of his life as he went to die on the cross. They are normally represented by paintings or other artwork, and are often set up around a church. They are sometimes known as the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows.
Praying the Stations of the Cross, alone or with a group, is a Lenten tradition, particularly associated with Good Friday. Catholics walk to the fourteen stations of the Way of the Cross and stop to pray at each one. But you don't have to visit them all on one day (and you don't have to be a Catholic). You may want to reflect on one Station for a few days before you move to another. Thinking about how Jesus might have felt can help us put our own feelings into perspective.
FIRST STATION: JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH
Jesus is standing before angry people who are yelling and saying mean, hurtful things to him. They scream at him. Some of them tell lies about him, saying that he did bad things. But Jesus stays quiet, even though he knows that he will be hurt. He knows that God is with him. He even asks God to help him forgive the people who are yelling and telling lies about him.
Has anyone ever said mean or hurtful things about you, or has anyone ever told a lie about you? If someone did that to you, how did you feel? Maybe you were scared, or hurt, or maybe you felt very angry.
SECOND STATION: JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS
When the soldiers put a big, heavy cross on Jesus' shoulders, Jesus doesn't fight with them or say angry words to them. He knows that he has to carry this cross a long way, and he knows that the way will be very hard for him at times. But Jesus knows that God is with him, and he asks God to help him to carry this cross, even though it is heavy.
Have you ever had something happen that was very hard for you? Sometimes children are very sick, or someone in their family is very sick. Sometimes adults or older children do not treat younger children nicely. Sometimes we just can't have things the way we want them.
THIRD STATION: JESUS FALLS THE FIRST TIME
Jesus is so tired as he walks along the road with the heavy cross on his shoulders. The cross keeps pushing into his shoulder, and the stones on the road hurt his feet. People yell and push him; the soldiers shout for him to move faster. Then Jesus falls, and the soldiers yell at him more. How tired Jesus is! Jesus prays in his heart, “God, help me remember that you are here.”
Did you ever fall when you were playing, or when you were helping with something? Falling really hurts, doesn't it? When people make mistakes, it is like falling. And when that happens, their heart sometimes feels like it is hurt.
FOURTH STATION: JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER
As Jesus walks slowly with the cross on his shoulders, a woman comes up to him. It’s Jesus’ mother, Mary. How sad for them to see each other now. Mary feels so sad because she sees how much he is suffering, and Jesus sees the sadness Mary feels. Even though they both know that God is with them, they can’t even say anything to each other, because they are so sad.
Have you ever been very sad, or do you know someone who has been very sad? Being sad can really hurt someone's heart a lot. Sometimes our hearts are sad because we cannot be with someone we love.
FIFTH STATION: SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS
Jesus is so tired that the soldiers know he cannot carry the heavy cross by himself. So they look around and see someone who looks strong enough to help Jesus carry this cross. This person's name is Simon. Jesus just looks at Simon and quietly whispers, “Thank you” to Simon. Then they continue on the long road, carrying the cross together.
Sometimes helping someone can be difficult, for so many different reasons. Maybe you haven't finished something that you like to do, when someone asks you for help. Or maybe you just don't feel like helping that person.
SIXTH STATION: VERONICA WIPES JESUS' FACE
Jesus is hot, tired, and sweating. His hair is all tangled, and he is covered in dust from the long walk. Suddenly, a woman pushes her way out of the crowd and stands in front of Jesus. She takes a clean cloth and gently wipes Jesus’ face. Jesus is so thankful that he leaves a picture of his face on her cloth.
Have you ever helped someone? Have you ever done something that helped someone feel better? Sometimes you may have done something that you thought was very small or unimportant: bringing a glass of water to someone, or even giving someone a helping hand with a chore. Maybe you just smiled at someone who looked sad!
SEVENTH STATION: JESUS FALLS THE SECOND TIME
How very tired, weak, and sad Jesus is now. Even though he keeps trying to walk with the heavy cross, he just can’t keep going. The noise from the crowd and from the soldiers makes him feel even worse. Then Jesus falls, because he just can’t take another step.
Have you ever had a hard time with something? Maybe you can’t do something the way you want, or you feel as if you keep messing up on something? How does your heart feel when that happens? Maybe your heart feels the way Jesus’ heart felt when he fell this second time.
EIGTH STATION: JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM
After Jesus gets up, he continues on the road carrying his heavy cross. He passes some women who are crying because they are so sad to see Jesus suffer. But instead of thinking only of himself and how bad he feels, Jesus tells the women not to keep crying because of him. He tells them, instead, to take care of others, and especially to take care of their children.
Sometimes it is easy to just think about ourselves -- about what is not going the way we want it, or about problems that we have. It is very hard, then, to think about other people. How does your heart look when you do that, when you think only about yourself?
NINTH STATION: JESUS FALLS THE THIRD TIME
Jesus is so tired now that he can hardly take another step. It is hard for him to breathe. He has been walking a long time along the dusty road, and he has no energy left. He just can’t go on anymore. Then Jesus falls down in the street for the third time. He is so very tired. Jesus asks God to help him. And Jesus gets up again, even though it is hard for him to do.
When we have really tried to do our best, and have not been able to succeed, it is easy to feel like Jesus did. Sometimes other people just keep yelling about something we do, or sometimes other people make fun of the way we do something.
TENTH STATION: JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS CLOTHES
Finally Jesus reaches the hill that is the end of the road he has to walk. Jesus knows that he will die here. But before he dies, the soldiers will do more to him. They pull off his long robe, and almost all his clothes are taken from him. Jesus stands in front of the crowd with only a small piece of cloth covering part of his body. Jesus asks God to help him remember that he is not alone, that God is with him through all this.
Is it hard for you to share or to give away something that you like? Do you sometimes like to keep everything for yourself? Do you ever let something of yours be the reason for bad feelings or bad words between you and someone else?
ELEVENTH STATION: JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS
How much Jesus hurts as the soldiers nail him to the cross. He hurts all over; he is tired and thirsty; he knows that he is going to die. But he looks at the people who have hurt him and, instead of saying bad things to those people, Jesus asks God to forgive them. He looks at his mother and tells her to take care of others. Even when he is dying, Jesus is thinking of other people.
Can you think of a time when someone hurt you with unkind words or actions? Was it hard for you to forgive that person?
TWELFTH STATION: JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS
Finally, after the long walk, after falling three times, after having the men beat him, after being nailed to the cross and suffering on the cross, Jesus bows his head and dies. Now this part of his life is over. There is nothing left for Jesus to give or to do. Jesus has given his life for all of us.
Did you ever feel that you wanted to make something better, or that if you only tried harder, something would change that you want to change? Or maybe you felt that you did not try hard enough at something, and something bad happened.
THIRTEENTH STATION: JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS
Now Jesus’ lifeless body is taken down from the cross. No more pain or suffering for Jesus; all the pain is over. Mary, Jesus’ mother, holds him tenderly in her arms. How sad she is. And how sad Jesus’ friends are. They are crying as they hold his body.
Is there someone you love who has died? When you remember that person, how does your heart look?
FOURTEENTH STATION: JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB
Jesus' friends wash his body and wrap it in a clean sheet. They touch his body gently, and then they put his body into a tomb. When they are finished, they push a very large stone over the entrance, so that no one can go inside. Now there is darkness in the tomb where Jesus’ body lies, and all of his friends go home because they are very sad and tired.
Can you remember a time when you were very sad to say good-bye to someone? Maybe you were leaving the person for only a short time, or maybe it was for a long time. Maybe you said good-bye to someone you loved when that person died.
FIFTEENTH STATION: LOOK AT JESUS
Although it is not a traditional part of the Stations, the resurrection of Jesus is sometimes included as a fifteenth station.
What a wonderful surprise for his friends when they see that he is alive. His body is like a new kind of body - full of light! And he is no longer tired, sad, or suffering. He has no more pain. Yes, he is alive in a new and special way. Jesus will live forever, now, in this new and special way.
Have you ever taken time to thank God for your life, for some of the good things you have been able to do, for some of the people in your life, or for some of the good things that people have done for you? When you get up in the morning, do you say thanks to God for your life and for the wonderful things you can see, hear, feel, taste, or smell?
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.