Did you grow up with some of your friends giving up chocolate or meat during something called Lent? I had no idea what Lent was or why it was necessary to give up anything. I was told it was something Catholics did to earn their way to heaven. Lenten practices are more than that.
Traditionally, Lent is a time of preparation and fasting, beginning on Ash Wednesday (March 2 this year). Some scholars believe it may have been practiced in the Apostolic times around 150 AD. Justin Martyr says the time was used to prepare for baptism into the church. During the early years, Lent was observed during Holy Week before Easter, which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. During this time candidates for baptism fasted before the rite. Often baptism ceremonies were held on Easter in conjunction with celebrating Christ’s resurrection.
Forty days was formalized at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Forty days is meant to imitate Christ’s forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Most modern Christian observances exclude Sundays because those days are considered a celebration of Christ.
While some still practice stricter fasting than giving up a guilty pleasure, many Christians practice the preparation for celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Lent is seen as a time of confession, service, and meditation.
Like many religious observances, Lent has fallen prey to modern practices. One writer describes Lents as the time to buy new, uncomfortable clothes for church, preparing eggs to hide, and gathering to eat. I experienced these practices while growing up. Even though I was raised in a Christian home, which celebrated Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. I missed the time of spiritual preparation.
How can we prepare our families for what many consider the greatest event in human history—the resurrection of Jesus?
One family I read about calls it Easter Advent. On each Sunday during Lent, they read the stories of Christ’s triumphal entry, time in Gethsemane, the trial and crucifixion, and resurrection. This family has an egg for each child, which includes a picture representing the story. The picture is hung on a small Easter tree. The emphasis is on the resurrection time.
Here are some suggestions for preparing to celebrate the resurrection.
- Practice confession. Definitely, we need to confess throughout the year. We can help our children learn to acknowledge sin and mistakes by example. This is a good time to go beyond “I’m sorry.” To confess is to admit wrongdoing. Make it a point to apologize specifically. “I’m sorry I yelled at you.” “I’m sorry I accidently threw away your toy.” Sometimes, though, these confessions may be for more consequential actions.
When we’re praying with our families, we should confess sin aloud. It need not be long or for a sin Good needs to deal with privately. Use discretion. “Lord, I confess I insulted the lady. Please forgive me.” This will help our children see it’s not so hard.
Some verses to use for writing practice and memorize are James 5:16, Psalm 32:5, and I John 1:9. Read about the confessions of Bible heroes: Ezra—Ezra 9:4-6, David—Psalm 51, or Daniel—Daniel 9:3-6.
- Give service. It’s easy to plan a service project, carry it out, then celebrate with ice cream afterwards. While preparing to celebrate Christ’s resurrection is a good time to actively service in the little things as they come up. Help someone carry groceries. Put out the trash for an elderly neighbor. Pick up trash in the park.
Jesus gave us an example when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:14-15). He didn’t expect thanks, he was teaching a lesson of care for others. Paul says to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13)
The point of service is not to get thanks or a prize. It is to serve God. Through our own actions, we can teach our children to give of themselves without accolades.
- Ah, meditation. We often have a slanted view of meditation. It’s not sitting in a specific position, humming a sound, a special time of day, or a special day. J. I. Packer describes it as “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”
We often think that to spend time in this kind of activity we must sit quietly, eyes closed, and keep our mind of God. It’s hard in our hurry up, instantaneous world, to be still even for a moment. If we adults can’t spend a few moments thinking on God, how can we expect our children to?
Each of these practices can be accomplish by sitting quietly and thinking, walking in nature, even while mindlessly washing the dishes. Some Christians meditate while they read Bible passages and pray each day. I like to slowly sing old hymns. Slowly, so I can think on each phrase.
Start slow. Read some of the Scripture passages about meditating (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 145:5). Talk about the meaning of each verse, each phrase, each word. It may take the family a few days to meditate on just one verse because all of us tend to get antsy these days.
(See “Biblical Meditation” by Thomas A. Tarrants, III at https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Biblical_Meditation for a discussion of meditation.)
Preparing for Resurrection Day. The last week of Lent includes the major events of Jesus’s life: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Day. Each one holds a special meaning.
Most churches have special activities for Palm Sunday (John 12)—passing out palm leaves, children’s program, or special speaker. It can be a special family day by walking as the disciples following Jesus did. Take note of God’s creation along the way. Look at rocks while remembering Jesus saying, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19: 39-40).
Maundy Thursday can be lost in the week as preparation for Easter are made. This is an important day of Holy Week. The word “maundy” comes from Latin meaning “command.” It was this day Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal at which he instituted communion. He also washed the feet of the disciples and gave a new command—”I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34, emphasis added).
On this day before Easter, we can remember the new command of Jesus, have communion within our family, or follow Christ’s example of practicing humble service to others.
Good Friday is a solemn day to practice meditation—thinking about the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus. Many churches have special services for Good Friday. Our families can also have a special worship before or after a meal, such as reading Matthew 27, Luke 23, or John 19.
During the final week leading to the celebration of the Resurrection, read one of Jesus’s seven sayings each day (Matthew 27:46, Luke 23:24, Luke 23:43, John 19:26-27, John 19:28, John 19:30, and Luke 23:46). Reflect on each. Plan an active that may reflect one of the sayings. For example, “Forgive them” (Luke 23:24) can be expressed as day of both seeking and extending forgiveness. Or John 19:26-27 gives thought to honor parents and could be a time to visit grandparents.
Resurrection Day! The hearts and minds of our family members are ready to shout for joy, sing praises, worship the risen Savior. This is the day God prepared from the beginning, and we have prepared for. Each family has special traditions for this celebration. After practicing confession, service, and meditation in preparation, this year the celebration may be particularly special.
(A word of caution: Homeschool moms, it’s easy to convert the Lenten activities into curriculum or lessons. Don’t just enjoy the time with your family and the Lord.)
Donkey Devos Guide for Lent can be used without the devotional book. It is available free at https://www.susankstewart.com/DDLentGuide