Understanding Lent and Easter

The season of Lent began today, February 26, with Ash Wednesday. “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 265)

The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencton meaning the time of year when the days grow long.  The season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter Triduum (meaning three days) that includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday through to Easter Sunday. Because Lent is determined by the movable date of Easter Day, the dates are different each year.  This year, Easter is April 12.

Lent is forty days long excluding Sundays.  Since every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebrating the resurrection, Sundays remain feast days even during the solemn Lenten season.  The five Lenten Sundays are followed by the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday), which ushers in Holy Week.

Holy Week, April 5-11, is when the church dramatizes the events leading up to and including the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. It begins with the Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday, and the joyous triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and ends at Easter.

The name Maundy Thursday, April 9, comes from the Latin mandatum or “command,” from the words of Jesus in the gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Good Friday, April 10, commemorates the crucifixion o our Lord. It is know as “Good” because of the new life brought about by his victory of the cross.

Easter Day begins at dusk on Holy Saturday, April 11. Many churches observe an Easter Vigil service that marks the beginning of Easter.

Easter is a day and a church season. Easter season is a festival season of fifty days whose first day is Easter Day, the Sunday of the Resurrection, and whose last day is the Day of Pentecost, May 31. Easter begins after sundown on Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter is initiated with the Easter Vigil, which can be observed after sundown but ideally is kept just before sunrise, so that the proclamation of Jesus resurrection comes with the dawn of the new day.

Easter Day is the principal feast of the church year. The word “Easter” comes from Easter, a Teutonic goddess whose name is associated with springtime, growth, and fertility. In most languages the name of the day is Pascha, which means “Passover.”

Symbols and Traditions of Lent:

  • Color: purple for penitence and royalty, or rough linen or a similar material, unbleached, raw, plain, and austere, to reflect the mood of Lent.  This is based upon the sackcloth of Old Testament mourning.
  • Ashes – these are prepared from the previous years palms used on Palm Sunday. The ashes symbolize our mortality and sorrow for our sins.  The people of the Hebrew scriptures put ashes on their foreheads as a sign of penitence.
  • Alleluias, joyful canticles, the Gloria in excelsis are omitted from worship and replaced with songs and responses that are more in keeping with Lent’s contemplative mood.
  • Vestments and hangings are more austere.  Flowers are omitted from the altar.
  • The Cross is a symbol of Christ and his sacrifice, love, redemption, atonement, and victory.
  • Stations of the Cross began in the Holy Land as a series of devotions along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) and later spread to churches, where the faithful stop to pray and with paintings or carvings that outline Jesus’ passion. 

Letting Go and Taking On

Many people observe Lent by self-denial – giving up something to increase their awareness of their dependence on God alone.  This is often such things as sweets, caffeine, or alcohol.  Others find it helpful to take on a special discipline to increase their spiritual life.  This could be a reading a special book (often in a church class or book study group), a new prayer time and focus,  an exercise routine, or a family project that benefits the community.

Here at St. Peter’s we will be reading and discussion Howard Thurman’s book, “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Our discussions will be each Sunday in Lent following 11:00 am worship in the parish hall. Great food is also provided. Our discussions will also include “The Way of Love.” You can learn more here.