During the early centuries of the church, the liturgical calendar was developed as a tool to help the people of God remember and celebrate the full mystery of the Gospel as revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. The liturgical seasons are: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. (Some traditions refer to the season after Pentecost Sunday as Ordinary Time). Each season helps us enter the mystery of the Gospel drawing our attention to different aspects of the life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of Jesus.
Lent is about the gospel. It is a time to narrow the focus of the Church to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to turn from our sin and trust in His atoning work. The season of Lent lasts approximately 40 days, excluding Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The 40 days have obvious biblical parallels in the flood narrative (Gen. 6-8), the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai (Exod. 24:12-18), Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-12) and Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-12, Luke 4:1-13). The last of these accounts is most relevant to the season. Originally a preparation period for those desiring to be baptized, Lent eventually became embedded into Christian tradition as a season 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. Whereas Advent is a season of ever-increasing light awaiting the incarnation of Christ, Lent is a season of ever-decreasing light approaching the cross.
Lent, specifically, draws our attention to Jesus’ suffering and self-sacrifice. Purple is used throughout the season because it symbolizes royalty, suffering and repentance. As Lent draws our attention to Jesus’ suffering, the season invites us into spiritual practices that help us consider our own role in Jesus’ suffering and to grow in his selfless likeness.
We all have different reactions to the season of Lent and its practices. Some of us come from traditions and congregations that observe Lent and explain it well. Some of us observe Lent by practicing some measure of austerity but without really understanding why. Some of us know Lent only by what immediately precedes it: Mardi Gras or Carnival. Still, there are those of us who never have observed it and do not know why we should. Regardless of our experiences and reactions, it is important to consider the meaning of Lent, as well as how and why we should observe it.
As a preparatory season, Lent has always focused on repentance. To repent is to re-orient the heart, mind and soul away from self and towards God. It’s the acknowledgement that life lived apart from God is the way of sin and death. And as we repent, we discover that God is our lover who always first moves towards us and is already doing everything in his power to lead us into his way of life, which he opened to us through Jesus Christ.
Even though Christians should always be marked by a repentant spirit—as Martin Luther famously taught, the Christian life in its totality is a life of repentance—it is still appropriate that certain times be set aside for a particular focus on repentance. So it may be helpful to think of the Lenten season as the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam: it’s a time ask the Holy Spirit to take stock of our lives and hearts and to restore our spiritual health.
So how do we keep a holy Lent? We encourage you to consider the following four, overlapping historic ways:
Self-examination: Self-examination is critical to keeping Lent because without it, repentance is impossible. As Lamentations 3:40 says: “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD.” So, use Lent as an opportunity to ask yourself some hard questions about your desires and habits, your ambitions and failures, your hopes and fears, and your pride and shame. The Holy Spirit uses this kind of intentional self-examination to reveal our sin and idolatry, or all the ways we seek life apart from God.
Self-denial: Consider fasting during Lent. This kind of self-discipline and self-denial help us to remember that we do not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4) and that Jesus is the true bread of life (John 6:35). How? As we abstain from food and other excesses, we deprive ourselves of the things that make us feel self-sufficient and protected. It’s in this place where we confront the temptation to live apart from God as our own gods. It’s in this place that we can confront our sin and hear with fresh ears the Good News that Jesus defeated sin and death and now invites us to live anew with him.
We recommend fasting by giving up a food, beverage, or activity that you often turn to for comfort. Perhaps this is chocolate, chips, beer or wine. Perhaps it is watching TV or spending time on social networks. As you consider what to abstain from, you may feel 3 the need to abstain from more than one thing. Another way to fast is to give up one meal a day, especially if you’re in the habit of eating out. If you would like to practice a full day of complete fasting (no food, but water/juice allowed), we recommend doing so on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. These are the traditional days for full fasting for many Christians around the world.
Please note that Sundays are never fast days; they are feast days. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and we celebrate that fact every Sunday, even during Lent! This is why the Sundays in Lent are not part of the season. So during Lent, take a break from fasting on Sundays and remember with joy that our salvation is a gracious gift from God!
Self-giving: As self-examination and self-denial turn us away from self to God, the practices also create more and more room in our lives for others. So for centuries, Christians have used Lent as a time to cultivate compassion, or love of neighbor, especially the poor, oppressed and marginalized.
There are many ways to do this. Here are a few suggestions: Consider taking any money saved from fasting and giving it to the Resurrection Brooklyn Mercy Fund and to other ministries dedicated to mercy and justice. Join or recommit to a church ministry like the Mercy Team or Prayer Team to practice “love in action.” Get to know the community non-profits your congregation already partners with, and reach out to others. Learn what the needs of your community are by listening well, and help mobilize your congregation to meet those needs. A final suggestion is to commit to praying for your neighborhoods, asking God to open your eyes to its needs.
The Means of Grace: Finally, undergirding self-examination, self-denial and self-giving are the means of grace. Historically, the church has said there are three means of grace, or instruments through which God helps us turn to him and grow more and more like Christ: prayer, scripture and sacraments.
As we turn to God, prayer becomes natural. We offer to God our hearts, souls and minds in prayer, and in turn, we discover God’s attention is already fixed on us and that he’s listening and ready to speak to us. In Scripture, we hear God’s life giving word to us and we are reminded over and over again of the Good News, that he comes to us in Jesus Christ. In the Sacraments, we physically experience the presence of God and his promises. Moreover, the Sacraments remind us that we are to experience the entirety of our Christian lives in community with our brother and sisters in Jesus Christ.
So, if regular times of Bible study and prayer have never been part of your life or they once were but have become less so, then Lent is a wonderful time to re-engage: Consider framing your days with short times of prayer and study in the mornings or evenings or both. Join a small group or ask your family or roommates to join you in periodic devotionals.
And make it a point to attend Sunday Gatherings. Our faith is a communal faith. We are not meant observe Lent alone. We are not meant to follow Jesus on our own. There are many today who identify themselves as Christians but for whom the church is peripheral and tangential. If this sounds like you, then use this Lenten season to commit yourself to the community of God’s people. If you are a follower of Christ and yet have never been baptized, then make every effort to be baptized as soon as possible. If you have been baptized, remember that in baptism you were incorporated into a community, the family of God, and that you are to join in the family meal, the Eucharist. And parents, the Lenten season is a wonderful time to help your children realize that the church is their family, that worship is their first duty and greatest joy.
Each week, we have suggested an area of fasting to apply to our lives. Far from a mere responsibility, these weekly fasts give us opportunities to pursue greater communion with Christ. By emptying our lives of commotion, clutter and noise, we hope to find greater room for Him to speak through His Word. Rather than simply subtracting something from our lives, this is an opportunity to add something greater.
Some of the fasts are traditional (food, caffeine, sweets), while others may be novel for many of us (media, shopping). These particular fasts were chosen because each represents a common comfort to which our culture runs for distraction. The hope for each is that a season of unplugging from the background buzz will be leveraged for the sake of communing with the Lord. Therefore, we should consider ways in which we can leverage the fast to engage in deeper prayer, study, community, meditation, etc.
Although encouraged to pursue a complete fast on many of the weeks (i.e. abstaining completely from the area of the week), there is one week in particular in which you are encouraged to plan ahead the degree to which you will engage in the fast. Week 1 is not expected to be an absolute fast.
Additionally, participants should consider the possibility of building each week upon the next. For instance, an individual could continue the Week 1 fast into Week 2 and so forth to eventually do all seven fasts together. Again, this is not intended to be a burden, but rather an opportunity, and should be stewarded as circumstances allow. If we are to follow Christ in the wilderness, it will take some degree of discomfort and inconvenience. May we begin to prepare our hearts accordingly.
Weekly Fast Schedule
Week 1: Food
Week 2: Television and Movies
Week 3: Social Networking and Internet
Week 4: Caffeine, Sweets, Alcohol
Week 5: Radio and Music
Week 6: Shopping for Non-Essentials
Week 7: News (Radio, Websites, Newspapers/Magazines, etc.)
START OF LENT
OPENING PRAYER Father in Heaven, the light of your truth gives sight to the darkness of sinful eyes. May this season of repentance bring us the blessing of Your forgiveness and the gift of Your light. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen. —A Prayer for Lent from the International Committee on English in the Liturgy
PRAYER OF CONFESSION O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that you may enter in. It is ruinous, O repair it! It displeases Your sight. I confess it, I know. But who shall cleanse it, to whom shall I cry but to you? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare Your servant from strange sins. Amen. —A Prayer from St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)
· Ash Wednesday: Matthew 1-2, focus 1.18-25
· Thursday: Matthew 3, focus on 3.1-12
· Friday: Matthew 4, focus on 4.1-11
· Saturday: Matthew 4, focus on 4.18-25
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER Lord Jesus, as you speak to us, give us ears to listen to what you have to say to us. And as you reveal yourself to us, may we give ourselves to you. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of laziness, despair, domination, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of sobriety, humility, patience and love to your servant. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen. —A Prayer of Confession from St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 305-373)
· Sunday: Psalm 2
· Monday: Matthew 5, focus on 5.1-12
· Tuesday: Matthew 6, focus on 6.5-15
· Wednesday: Matthew 7, focus on 7.15-23
· Thursday: Matthew 8, focus on 8.23-34
· Friday: Matthew 9, focus on 9.9-17
· Saturday: Matthew 10.1-15
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER Convert us anew this Lenten season, O God our Savior, and shape our lives with your word of truth. Teach us to forgive as you forgive. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION Heavenly Father, like Adam and Eve we often listen to the wrong voice, turning away from your Word. We are shamed by our disobedience, our deafness, our limited ability to do the right thing at the right time, or even sometimes to know what is the right thing and the right time. Forgive us, Lord, for we are weak. Amen. —A Lutheran Prayer of Confession for Lent.
· Sunday: Psalm 118
· Monday: Matthew 10.16-42, focus on 10.16-25
· Tuesday: Matthew 11, focused on 11.1-19
· Wednesday: Matthew 12.1-21, focus on 12.15-21
· Thursday: Matthew 12:22-50, focus on 12.27-32
· Friday: Matthew 13, focus on 13.1-12
· Saturday: Matthew 13, focus on 13.31-33, 44-46
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER O Lord, who has mercy upon all, take away from me my sins, and mercifully kindle in me the fire of thy Holy Spirit. Take away from me the heart of stone, and give me a heart of flesh, a heart to love and adore Thee, a heart to delight in Thee, to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake. Amen. – A prayer from St. Ambrose of Milan
PRAYER OF CONFESSION Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen. —Based on Psalm 51
· Sunday: Psalm 69
· Monday: Matthew 14, focus on 22-33
· Tuesday: Matthew 15.1-20, focus on 15.1-9
· Wednesday: Matthew 15.21-38, focus on 15.21-28
· Thursday: Matthew 16: focus on 16.21-28
· Friday: Matthew 17, focus on 17.1-9
· Saturday: Matthew 17, focus on 17.14-20
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER Holy God, by the grace of Jesus Christ you know the tests and trials we face. Walk with us through this wilderness. Come to us with ministers of healing and visit us with messengers of hope, so that we may return to you in faith, believing the good news of the gospel; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. —A Presbyterian Prayer for Lent
PRAYER OF CONFESSION Good God, we confess how we have rebelled against you. We are controlled by doubt and fear, and in our doubt we have gone our own way. We have been quick to blame others for our weakness and slow to accept responsibility for ourselves. Forgive us, and grant us your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
· Sunday: Psalm 102
· Monday: Matthew 18, focus on 19.21-35
· Tuesday: Matthew 19, focus on 19.16-26
· Wednesday: Matthew 20, focus on 20.1-16
· Thursday: Matthew 21.1-22, focus on 21.1-17
· Friday: Matthew 21.23-46, focus on 21.33-45
· Saturday: Matthew 22, focus on 22.1-14
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER O God, you desire that all people should eat and be satisfied. As we follow Jesus and are transformed by his death and resurrection, may we spend our lives in his ways of love and hospitality so that all may share in your bounty. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION Our Father, have pity and mercy on us. We have sinned against heaven and you. We are not worthy to be called your children. Accept us at least as hired servants. O merciful God, forgive us all the sins we have committed against you. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen. —Based on Luke 15
· Sunday: Psalm 110
· Monday: Matthew 23, focus on 23.29-39
· Tuesday: Matthew 24, focus on 24.15-28
· Wednesday: Matthew 24, focus on 24.45-51
· Thursday: Matthew 25, focus on 25.14-30
· Friday: Matthew 25, focus on 25.31-46
· Saturday: Matthew 26.1-29
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
OPENING PRAYER Merciful God, this Holy week we turn our hearts again to Jerusalem, and to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stir up within us the gift of faith that we may not only praise him with our lips, but may follow him in the way of the cross. Through Jesus, Amen. —A prayer for Lent from the Reformed Church in America.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION We confess we are rebellious. Our faith is often more show than substance, our hearts are in need of cleansing. Have mercy on us. Help us to lay at your feet all that we have and all that we are, trusting you to forgive what is sinful, to heal what is broken, to welcome our praises and to receive us as your own. Amen.
· Palm Sunday: Psalm 22
· Monday: Matthew 26.30-46
· Tuesday: Matthew 26.47-56
· Wednesday: Matthew 12.1-21, focus on 12.15-21
· Maundy Thursday: Matthew 27.1-32
· Good Friday: Matthew 27.33-56
· Holy Saturday: Matthew 27.57-66
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CLOSING PRAYER Almighty God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross for us. Grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
*Adapted from Lent Guides by Resurrection Brooklyn and The Village Church