Lent, Holy Week and Easter
Following Jesus' journey through suffering and death to new lifescroll down
The period of Lent lasts for forty days (not including Sundays). It is a time when Christians reflect and prepare for the celebrations of Easter. Some people fast, eat frugally or give up treats following the example of Jesus, who fasted for forty days in the wilderness.
People also give to charity, set aside time to study the bible and meet with other Christians to reflect on Jesus' life and prepare for the events of Easter.
Ash Wednesday services set the tone for Lent, with sombre readings and hymns and a focus on penitence (saying sorry for and turning away from sin).
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ."
Holy Week is when the church remembers the last week of Jesus' life and is the most intense week of the year for Christians.
The crowds waved palm branches and covered his path with them. Churches remember this with crosses made from palm leaves and hold processions like the one that Jesus experienced - sometimes with a donkey, too!
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,John 12:12-13
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!”
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.Luke 22:19-20
Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word mandare meaning to command. We remember Jesus' command: 'Love one another as I have loved you'.
At the Last Supper Jesus washed the disciples' feet. Some churches recreate this act of service at special services and events. This is not only an important reminder of the nature of Jesus, who we serve, but also the kind of service we are meant to demonstrate in our love for one another.
on this the night he was betrayed,
your Son Jesus Christ washed his disciples' feet.
We commit ourselves to follow his example of love and service.
Walk of Witness
Many churches take part in a Walk of Witness. Churches gather (often with other local Christian denominations) to walk through the streets of their locality together. They do this to remember that Jesus had to carry his cross publicly through the streets of Jerusalem. It is a public statement of their faith, a retelling of the crucifixion story and a reminder of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 verse 24: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.John 3.16
The Easter Vigil is the first service of Easter and begins sometime on the evening of Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Day). It begins with a symbolic expectant waiting (usually outdoors around a fire) for the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning, and this is represented visually by a large Easter candle, which is lit from the fire and brought into a darkened church. This depiction of new life and light represents Jesus’ resurrection on the first Easter morning. The congregation then light their own candles from the Easter candle, representing their own new life as followers of Jesus. The service will contain a number of readings from the Bible, and also an opportunity for all the participants to renew the promises made at their baptism. The Easter Vigil is generally a quiet and thoughtful service, but one full of joy.
On the third day after being crucified, Jesus' tomb was found to be empty. He had risen from the dead. Life triumphs over death! The joy of resurrection is possible only because Christ endured death and conquered it.
Some churches celebrate Jesus' bringing life from death by making and blessing an Easter garden. Throughout Lent, churches are kept stark and bare but on Easter Sunday, the churches are decorated with flowers and the sombre purple of Lent is replaced with celebratory white or gold. There is a real party feel to many services with uplifting music and repeated alleluias (an exclamation of joyful praise).
The eggs we give and receive at Easter have many different symbols attached to them. They represent new life and some people suggest that they resemble the stone at the entrance to Jesus' tomb.
Easter Day marks the beginning of fifty days of celebrating Jesus' resurrection. The final ten days begin on Ascension day where we celebrate Jesus' ascension into heaven. Churches around the country mark the day with services, sometimes outside or on church roofs. Finally, at the end of the fifty days, we celebrate Pentecost (sometimes called Whitsun) when Jesus' disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is often referred to as the birthday of the Church and is celebrated with parties and Whit walks (processions through town).