Seasonal Rhythms Part 1: What is Lent?

Tomorrow marks the first day in the Lenten season. In honor of that, I will be sharing a series this week, one post every day, walking through what Lent is, our traditions as a family, resources for kids and adults, and our Easter traditions. This is something I shared about last year during this season in my Instagram stories and there was much interest in what we did. To be honest, I only started giving Lent some deeper thought a few years ago. I think Advent and Christmas are both so huge in our culture, but often Lent remains confusing - what do we do? Do I need to "give something up"? And how do we best observe this reality of Christ's suffering and death for our sins? Do we just have to be somber and sad for 40 days? Seems pretty heavy, so why and how do we fit it into our lives? 

I've seen a sort of awakening from gospel-centered believers over the last few years around Lent. What was once just a Catholic tradition in many ways, has come back around and I think many believers are seeing the value of engaging in spiritual disciplines to connect with Christ in deeper ways. Lent is a time to "enter the wilderness," so to speak. To really reflect on the reality that our sin put Jesus on the cross. It is not penance, or sacrificial, as we know that the only true and perfect sacrifice has already been given for us in Jesus. Out of His love for us, we enter into His story, reflecting on the brokenness of ourselves and our world. Each Sunday through Lent is considered a "feast day." It's a break from the sobriety of the season and a picture of the celebration that is to come on Easter. I love this aspect of Lent, that the Sabbath day, the day we rest and gather with our church families, is the day that we enter temporarily into the rejoicing of Heaven, expectant of what is to come for those who put their faith and hope in Christ. It's not just joy over what happened on Easter, but joy in what is promised to us for eternity. 

What Is Lent?

The liturgical year is a beautiful tradition that I believe can guide us to worship Christ deeper as we grow in our knowledge of Him. If you grew up in the church, events like Ash Wednesday or Easter Sunday may have been seen as a way to earn good standing with God. We cannot do anything to earn God's love, since He has already freely given it through His Son. These disciplines could have also lost their significance, as they often do when we do things over and over. They become common place and we forget why we did them in the first place. But when we look back at the reason this season exists, and walk into it each year with humility and an openness to learn and grow, my experience has been that our faith can really flourish. We need to ask ourselves where our hearts are - what is my intention in all of this? Traditions are great but they terminate on themselves without a deeper significance that is rooted in worshipping Christ. 

So what is Lent? 

The word “Lent” can invoke a number of thoughts, questions and feelings, depending on your background with the Church. If you grew up in an evangelical church, you probably think of it as some strange Catholic tradition, where folks put ashes on their foreheads and give up different kinds of foods every year. If you grew up in a liturgical tradition, you may have had a good experience or, perhaps, you file it away in the junk drawer of legalism given some bad experiences. Whatever the case, Lent doesn’t have to be seen as either rote or mystifying. Like the rest of the seasons, it can be seen rightly and faithfully when understood through the lens of Jesus—the one true story of the Bible. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which kicks off 40 days of prayer and fasting— representing Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, during which we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Last Supper with His disciples (Maundy Thursday) and His death on the cross (Good Friday). The season officially ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. A season to prepare for the joy and hope of Easter, Lent reminds us that the resurrection only occurred after the crucifixion. It is a time for the Church to symbolically follow Christ into the wilderness. It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself. It is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel. In a culture inundated by individualism and hedonism, with rhythms and practices that turn our desires toward the things we think we need, Lent turns our desires toward Jesus, the only thing we truly need, helping us trade lesser loves for His greater love. When we enter into the story of Jesus, symbolically walking with Him through the desert and to the cross, we move from self-gratification to self-denial. As we embrace the pain and sorrow of Jesus, we turn away from our sin and toward the Savior.

  • Posture: sorrowful, contemplative, repentant, celebratory (Palm Sunday only)
  • Colors: purple, black, red
  • Symbols: ash, sackcloth, water, candles, palm branches, thorns, bread and wine, nails, cross
  • Flowers and Greenery: none, desert vegetation, palms (Palm Sunday only)

From The Village Church Seasons Guide

You can download the guide here.