Lent, meaning lengthening days, begins 7 Wednesdays (40 days, excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. It is a 40 day time for reflection and penance in preparation for Easter. The 40 days represent the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness before he began his ministry. In centuries past, fasting was a part of the Christian tradition, however, this has been replaced by abstinence or “giving up” a vice or habit during the season, such as chocolate, you tube, or morning coffee. It is a test of self-discipline and a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
The first Christians were Jewish. They celebrated the Jewish Passover at the same time as Good Friday. The last supper was the Jewish Seder, when Jesus became the Passover lamb.
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5:7-8)
Passover is a set date on the Jewish calendar; Easter is a moveable feast (related to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox). The two dates do not always coincide. Both Easter and Passover occur in spring, symbolizing new life and resurrection: for the Jewish nation, it was deliverance from Egypt; for the Christians, it was deliverance from sin and death.
Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras – fat Tuesday), sometimes referred to as “pancake day.” It gets its name from “shriving” meaning confession and absolution. Shrove Tuesday was the last chance to use up the foods that weren’t allowed in Lent, such as oil, cream and sugar, hence the pancakes. It also why the Mardi Gras celebrations are a bit decadent—the last chance to indulge before repentance.
Ash Wednesday – The beginning of Lent is often marked by special services. Worshippers are marked on the forehead with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sins. The minister or priest says, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return” as he places the mark on the forehead.
Palm Sunday – The Sunday before Easter celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. It is the beginning of Holy week, often marked by palm branches and a processional into the church.
Maundy Thursday – “The word Maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum, which means commandment. It refers to when Jesus, in the Upper Room during the Last Supper, said to the disciples: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.’ (John 13:34).” It includes communion and foot washing—the symbol of servant leadership.
Good Friday – The day of Christ’s crucifixion and death. It is marked by services that commemorate the way of the cross and the last words of Jesus.
Easter Sunday – Resurrection Sunday. The holiest day on the Christian calendar. The day of new beginnings and hope.
As we enter into the season of Lent, give us an open heart and humility to listen to what you may be saying to us. As we follow Jesus through the passion and crucifixion, may the contrast with Easter become a beacon of hope and joy in the darkness.