David Ash
What is Lent?

We're going to take a look at what the period of Lent is all about and then list some helpful resources for you and your family (you'll find those at the bottom!)

So what is Lent?
Lent is the six weeks which leads up to the Easter weekend and it is one of the most important periods in the Christian Calendar. For those who are part of the Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox traditions it is as important as Advent which celebrates the build up to Christmas.  

There are however, some major differences between Lent and Advent. Advent is clearly a time of celebration and great anticipation as the events leading up to the birth of Christ are remembered. Lent can often be a much more sombre time, a time of preparation as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter. It is often a time of fasting where Christians will give up something which they would usually eat or do. But Lent is also a time when Christian’s are reminded to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and allow the Lord to speak to us a little deeper as we call to mind His great work of salvation on our behalf.  

As any significant life event requires preparation, Lent helps Christians prepare their hearts and minds in the build up to Easter, drawing our focus back onto what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. It provides a time to reflect on the human condition, on our faults and failures, which reminds us afresh of our need for a Saviour. It is a time of repentance as we remember to turn our hearts once again to God, reflecting on all that the Cross has achieved for us. It shouldn’t lead to despair or despondency as it ultimately points us to our hope and freedom as we remember on Easter Sunday the freedom which was won for us!  

Advent can often give us a warm and fuzzy feeling, reminding us of little babies, the joys that parenthood can bring and the excitement of an imminent arrival. Easter on the other hand is far more complex. It’s at the Cross where our faith stands or falls, at the cross where all our sin, failure and lack is met by the saving sacrifice of Christ. Without His death, there would be no salvation, no payment for our sin, no atonement. Yet equally without His resurrection, there would be no new life, no future hope, no dwelling with God into eternity.  

This is why many Christians spend weeks in fasting and preparation in the run up to Easter and why Lent is so significant in the life of the church.  

When does Lent take place?
Rather than taking place on a fixed date each year, it follows the liturgical calendar. But Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days (40 fasting days and 6 Sundays) before Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known as ‘Pancake Day’ in the UK, although in other parts of the world it is called Mardi Gras (or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French).  

How is Lent observed?
Modern Christians celebrate in different ways. In more Orthodox traditions many will fast and abstain from eating meat, fish, eggs and fats until Easter Sunday.  

However it is also becoming more popular to give up single (luxury) items, such as chocolate, meat or alcohol during lent. Increasingly you will also find Christians may give up something which they feel may help them focus more upon their faith, for example TV or social media.  

It is also a time when Christians will make a more focussed effort to read their Bibles and spend more time in prayer. There are a lot of devotional materials which are aimed specifically to be used at this time of year.  

Sundays during the period of Lent have increased significance as although during the week the fast is observed on Sundays the fast is broken and many will gather together for celebration or remembrance feasts. The 4th and 6th Sundays of lent are particularly important as especially in the UK we celebrate Mothering Sunday and Palm Sunday.  

What is the significance of Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove originally comes form the word Shrive meaning to absolve. It is the final day before Lent begins and is traditionally a time of self reflection and a time to make decisions about what the focus of the period of fasting will be.  

It is also a time of preparation by intentionally using up items which would not be consumed during the period of fasting - as we said earlier many Christians would stop eating meat, fish, eggs, fats, milk and sugar and so Shrove Tuesday became a final feast before a period of fasting and reflection. Some of these ingredients combine to make pancake batter and so Shrove Tuesday has become synonymous with Pancake Day! 

Why Ash Wednesday?
As we said earlier the first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, because of a tradition which saw the priests blessing the ashes which were taken from burning the previous years palm branches or crosses (made from palm leaves), from the previous years Palm Sunday celebration. Once they have blessed the ashes many traditions will use them to draw crosses on people’s foreheads to mark the beginning of their Lent fast.  

What is the significance of Holy Week?
Palm Sunday celebrates the beginning of what is known as Holy Week - the final week of Lent. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, services may include a procession of palm branches in memory of the branches laid at Jesus’ feet as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Many churches distribute Palm crosses which are then kept until the following Ash Wednesday acting as a reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection throughout the year. 

 In the UK it is common for Palm branches to be switched with more native tree branches that are more available. 

Holy Week has a number of days which are used to commemorate the various events which took place on the first Holy Week. Holy Wednesday - remembering Judas’ betrayal, Maundy Thursday - remembering the Last Supper and Good Friday - the day which Christians around the world remember the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus.  

Lent Resources

There are all sorts of resources out there which you can use with your family or as personal devotional material. Here are just a few of the options:

Jesus Story Book Bible - Lent Reading Resource

40 Acts - Lent Activity Wallchart

Lent Pilgrim - Lent App looking at Beatitudes

Not A Tame Lion - based on CS Lewis - by Hilary Brand

Preparing for Easter - CS Lewis

Eden Lent Books (for Adults)

Eden Lent Books (for Children)

Parenting for Faith - Lent Activities (weekly blog post)

Family Fun for Easter - Book

Bible Reading Fellowship - Easter Resources

40 Days - Catching the Wave - Prayer Resource