What is Lent?
Lent is the 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter.
Why is it called Lent?
Lent is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to lengthen. The Anglo-Saxon Lent is observed in spring when the days begin to get longer.
What do we do during Lent?
For some Christians, Lent is a period of fasting, praying, and giving in preparation for Easter.
When does it start?
The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning towards God. Sin is anything we think, anything we say, anything we do or anything we fail to do to please God.
Where do the ashes come from?
The ashes used are gathered after the palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned.
Why 40 Days?
When you read your Bible you can't help but be impressed by the significance of the number 40 whether it is 40 days or 40 years. Here are some examples:
In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain.
Moses was 40 years as a shepherd before he saw the burning bush.
Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
The Israelites wandered the desert of 40 years before reaching the Promised Land.
Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.
Why is Sunday not included in the forty days of Lent?
From about 325 AD, it began to be common for people to fast for forty days following the model of Jesus. Fasting then was rigidly observed and meant only one meal a day. Meat and fish were totally forbidden. The forty days were continuous, but because Sundays could never be fast days the forty days were extended. Adding four days onto Lent made the beginning Ash Wednesday. Sunday was not considered a fast day because Sunday is a weekly reminder of Jesus' resurrection. He said "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?" (Mark 2:19, NIV)
What’s Holy Week?
The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week. It is when Christians remember the last week of Jesus' life and is the most important time in the Christian year.
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. It reminds us of the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, on a donkey, to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Jesus chose a donkey to show that he had come in peace. Many people welcomed Jesus by shouting, waving palm branches and throwing branches down in the path of the donkey. They hoped that Jesus was the Savior who the Bible had promised.
On the night before his death, Jesus had a final meal with his friends. Before this festival meal for Passover, Jesus surprised his friends by washing the feet of every person, a task that was normally done by a servant. He wanted to show his followers that they should love one another in humble ways.
Later in the meal, which is known to Christians as 'The Last Supper', Jesus passed around bread and wine. He said the bread was his body broken for them and the wine was his blood shed for them. He was telling them that he was going to die and that when they share bread and wine they should remember him.
On Good Friday we remember the day that Jesus was killed on the cross. He was nailed to a wooden cross by Roman soldiers. This is the reason why the cross is an important sign.
It is known as Good Friday because we believe that Jesus gave up his life for the good of everyone.
Easter Sunday is a happy day because we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead on this day.
Here are some practical ways to fast with kids:
- Make different choices. For a period of time, choose healthy foods for snacking. Instead of cookies, choose carrots. Instead of soda choose water. Instead of fast food, choose nutritious meals.
- Abstain from sweets. Lead kids to not eat sugar-based foods (candy, cake, pastries) for a designated time.
- A digital fast. As a family, decide to fast from technology. This could be as simple as not using the DVD player in the minivan to a complete abstinence for 40 days.
- Grow from short to more intensive fasts. Don’t start with a 40 day, “no (fill in the blank)” fast that will be difficult to achieve. Start small and build on success
Be intentional about helping kids understand why you’re fasting:
Fasting must center on God. If you fast for any reason other than to center on Him; His will and His desire, it will be in vain. A great way to think about/explain it is when we miss or feel bad about what we’re giving up say a prayer of thanksgiving for what Jesus gave up for us.
Fasting reminds us that God is our provider of every good and perfect gift. Help kids find this reality.
Fasting helps us focus. The point of a fast is to focus on a particular issue, need, concern, or desire. Determine the point and be very intentional to share and help kids understand.
Fasting is a discipline
a punishment. Don’t use the biblical discipline of fasting to ease your guilt or need to punish poor behavior.
Model biblical fasting. Kids learn more from what they see than what they simply hear. When teaching the discipline of fasting, know that you can’t lead kids to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.
Don’t sell kids short. While the practice and understanding of biblical fasting will be best suited for older kids, teaching and allowing kids to participate in age-appropriate ways will lay foundations for deeper and more meaningful experiences in the future.
This inwardly expressed discipline (not publicly shared but a private matter between the individual and God) in its traditional sense should be approached with a lot of thought and care.
Some Lent Activities for Families
Did you know that the pretzel is a traditional food for lent?
When early Christians would pray, they would cross their arms and touch each shoulder with the opposite hand. They also fasted very strictly during lent, making their bread with only water, flour, and salt. A monk shaped this in the form of praying arms for children, and the pretzel was born!
Soft Pretzel Recipe -What you need:
1 package yeast 1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar 1 egg
Mix your yeast, water, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the flour, and knead until the dough is smooth. Shape into the form of arms crossed in prayer and place it on a baking sheet. Brush the dough with a beaten egg to give it a shiny finish (I skipped the egg on mine). Sprinkle the top with salt, and bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
Take a Walk
Take a nature walk and collect items that could remind you of the life of Jesus. For example, two sticks could be put together as a cross, a thorn could represent the crown on Jesus' head and a stone could remind the children of the big stone that rolled in front of Jesus' tomb.
Practice giving one another a foot-wash. Talk a bit about Maundy Thursday when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and commanded them to love one another. The word maundy comes from a root word meaning "mandate" or "command." Look up John 13:34-35 to discover the "new commandment" Jesus gives.
Fill a clay pot with soil and grass seeds. Watch the grass sprouts come to life. Explain how Jesus gives us new life.
Give Stuff Away
Fill a bag with clothes, toys, and other items to give away.
Acts of Love
Help children brainstorm simple ways to make helpful and meaningful contributions to family, school, and church.
Thank you tower
Give each child a couple of Legos and build a tower. Go round the circle and encourage each child to say 'thank you God for...' As they say thank you , they can add their brick to the tower.
"Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!"
Make hot cross buns. This was traditionally served on Good Friday. Sing the nursery rhyme “Hot Cross Bun.”
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F) 1 tbsp active dry yeast
3 tablespoons butter 3/4 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon instant powdered milk 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup white sugar 1 egg yolk
3/8 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons water
1 egg 1 egg white
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 2 teaspoons milk
3 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- Put warm water, butter, skim milk powder, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, egg, egg white, flour, and yeast in bread maker and start on dough program.
- When 5 minutes of kneading are left, add currants and cinnamon. Leave in machine till double.
- Punch down on floured surface, cover, and let rest 10 minutes.
- Shape into 12 balls and place in a greased 9 x 12-inch pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place till double, about 35-40 minutes.
- Mix egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water. Brush on balls.
- Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and cool on wire rack.
- To make crosses: mix together confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and milk. Brush an X on each cooled bun.
Jesus died to set us free from the wrong things we have done and also to release us from the things that worry and oppress us. Children thought about something they wished they hadn't done or something they were worried about and, in their heads or out loud, asked God to help them with it or to forgive them. Then blow some bubbles and watched them float as a symbol of the freedom that Jesus was giving them.
Easter Cookie Story
To be made the evening before Easter, or whenever you want to make the connection
You will need:
1c. whole pecans zipper baggie
1 tsp. vinegar wooden spoon
3 egg whites tape
a pinch salt Bible
1. Preheat oven to 300
Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, the Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.
Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30.
Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life
. Read John 10:10
Sprinkle a little salt into each child's hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.
So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1c. sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us.He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16.
Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah. 1:18 and John 3:1-3.
Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid. Read Matt. 27:57-60.
Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus' tomb was sealed. Read Matt.27:65-66.
GO TO BED! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 and 22.
On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.