Have you ever heard another Christian talk about a season called "Lent" and wondered why they cared so much about the fuzzy stuff in their pockets? Sorry... that's a bad dad joke.
If you're like me, you didn't grow up in a church or denomination that gave much focus to what is called the "Liturgical Calendar". This calendar is a list of seasons, feasts, and holy days that has been used by various Christian denominations and traditions for centuries. It acts as a guide through the year, prompting believers to regularly reflect on important historical events and people, providing opportunities to be formed by the lessons they can teach us.
Lent is a significant time or "season" on the Liturgical Calendar. It officially begins with Ash Wednesday, leads to Holy Week, and ends with Easter. This is a time spent preparing for Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. If you have never been in a community that follows this calendar, you're in for a treat!
Here's a list of significant days of the Lenten season, what makes them significant, and suggestions for how ministry leaders can help their members observe each day.
Also known as Pre-Lent or Forelent, this season lasts a few weeks, beginning the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday and extending to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. For instance, in 2022 Shrovetide starts Feb 13 and ends Mar 1.
This period isn't technically a part of Lent, but many Christians around the world use this time to prepare their hearts for the Lenten season. It's a strange word to say out loud... but it really is the primer of the entire season.
Shrovetide is typically a time of self-reflection and repentance. Christians often use this season to consider what they will sacrifice or fast from during Lent.
If you are a ministry leader, consider encouraging your members to participate in a fast during Lent and use Sunday services during Shrovetide to comment on giving up worldly things to increase our dependence on God.
The first official day of Lent for most Christian traditions. The word "ash" in the name comes from the practice of burning the palm fronds of last year's Palm Sunday celebration and using the ashes to paint a cross on everyone's foreheads.
The ash on our foreheads is meant to serve as a reminder that we come from dust and will return to dust. Ashes were also used by ancient Jews to demonstrate when they were in great mourning or grief. They would sprinkle it on their heads or sit upon a pile of ashes.
Most churches that observe Ash Wednesday hold a service early in the day or have ministers available all day to pray over members and "paint" the cross on each forehead.
But if you are not able to schedule a special service early in the day, you could also share a video on social media where you deliver a message about human frailty and dependence on God, using ashes as an illustration.
You could even encourage members to find ashes or dirt and spend time reflecting on the shortness of life and the importance of using our life to know God and love our neighbors.
Also known as Quadragesima Sunday or Invocabit Sunday.
Historically, this has been a day focused on the temptation Christ faced in the wilderness before He officially began His public ministry, as described in Luke 4:1-13.
Each temptation the devil offered Jesus was a direct challenge to God's power and provision. Jesus overcomes each temptation by quoting Scripture and depending fully on the Father.
We could all certainly take important lessons from how Jesus handled His temptation. In your sermon, consider encouraging your members to use Lent as a time to learn to rely more fully on God. Thanks to Jesus, we know that God is sufficient and we can count on His promises.
Often referred to as Reminiscere Sunday, the second Sunday of Lent celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus, found in Luke 9:28-36.
The Transfiguration finds Jesus flanked by Moses and Elijah, indicating that Jesus stands in continuity with the Law and the Prophets, acting as the fulfillment of both.
The Transfiguration is a key event in the life of Christ. Like with Jesus's baptism, the voice of God is heard affirming that Jesus is His Son. We also get a foreshadowing of a resurrected Savior in this passage.
For this Sunday's sermon, you could highlight how Jesus is the fulfillment of everything we read in the Old Testament about the Messiah. And that because of this, we can place our hope in Him.
Also called Oculi Sunday, this day is typically used to emphasize themes of repentance, conversion, and mercy.
You could include these passages in your sermon and draw attention to Jesus's call to repentance in Luke and His loving approach to the woman at the well. This is the perfect opportunity to lead your members toward a posture of humility and repentance, as well as ask them to reflect on who they could treat more graciously.
This day has a few names. You might hear this day referred to as Mothering Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or Laetare Sunday. Christians have usually used this day to visit their "mother church" where they were introduced to or baptized in the faith. The word "Laetare" is Latin for "rejoice".
Often ministers read from Luke 15 and John 9 during service. In both passages, we see Jesus work against the expectations of the religious leaders of His day by dining with unclean sinners and healing on the Sabbath.
You could use this day to reflect on the ways Jesus overcomes boundaries and expectations to meet us exactly where we are, offering us more love and grace than we could ever deserve.
Sometimes referred to as Passion Sunday, this day begins Passiontide, the final two weeks of Lent. This day is reserved for focusing on Jesus's final days before going to Jerusalem, leading to His death.
On this day, churches across the world reflect on the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, foreshadowing the ultimate miracle of His own resurrection around the corner.
You could read John 11:1-45 and use the sermon to reflect on the new life we've been giving through our risen Savior.
Also, consider leading your members in a meditation on the significance of Jesus raising Himself from the dead by asking them to recall their own testimony and baptism. Perhaps include a time in the service for a member to share their testimony with the congregation.
Sometimes known as Palm Sunday, this day reflects on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the people of the city greeted him by laying palm branches and coats on the ground while shouting “HOSANNAH”. These very same people would be shouting “CRUCIFY HIM” just a few days later.
Palm Sunday also serves as the official beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent, ending with Easter.
This day is probably one of the biggest events on your church's calendar. I'm sure you already know what your church will be doing for this Sunday. Below are a couple of suggestions to round out the details of your plans.
This service should be a joyous occasion, so consider choosing worship music that is upbeat and gets people out of their seats. Help your people step into the shoes of the Israelites that greeted Jesus that day.
Many churches try to include a reading or sermon of the whole Passion narrative. People in the building might only attend this service and the following Sunday. This is a chance to offer everyone present the whole story of the crucifixion.
My hope is that this post acts as a primer for the Lenten season.
There is a long history behind this season, so I highly encourage you to spend time researching Lent and the Liturgical Calendar like I did. I found this site very informative as I prepared this post. I also recommend talking to other believers from denominations that have a longstanding relationship with the Liturgical Calendar.
Christians around the globe have a wide variety of ways they observe each day of the Lenten season. If anything, these suggestions are meant to inspire you to dive deeper and open the door to greater participation.