A Ministry of Make and Deepen Disciples
Helping Children Live into the Season of Lent
What is Lent anyway and where did it come from?
The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning spring and which is related to the verb lengthen, because this is the time of the year when the days begin to get noticeably longer. It was developed by the early church as a time of preparation for the coming of Easter and is characterized as a season of reflection and contemplation, not unlike Advent.
We often think of it as a time of “giving up” something in part as a reminder that Christ gave his life for us. But that is a more modern adaptation from the early church where people acknowledged Jesus as their Lord and Savior and committed to “give” their life to Christ which culminated in baptism at Easter.
The 40 days of Lent were established in A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicaea. By the 7th century, Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. However, since Sundays, are a weekly “celebration” of the death and resurrection of Christ, they are not counted among the 40 days. Therefore, Ash Wednesday is actually 46 days before Easter.
This is a time when we can encourage families to set aside a short time each day for contemplation and reflection. A good resource for this is “Spiritual Practices in Community” by Diana Shifflett. This can also be a time for families to reflect on how they can live out and share our faith with others. Two helpful resources are BLESS and My GROW Adventure Story with God. You can find them here:
Within the gathered body, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. A solemn occasion where we remember the sacrifice of Christ made on our behalf. Christ died for our sin. The cross of ashes placed on our forehead or hand are a reminder to us of our need to repent of our sin and the sacrifice Jesus made to cleanse us of our sin because he took our sin upon himself.
Children should be encouraged to participate in this service and given opportunity to confess, receive God’s forgiveness, and thank Jesus for his sacrifice. In the same way, children can participate in the resurrection celebration each Sunday of Lent. Here, the focus is on the joy that is ours because Christ’s sacrificial love conquered death, and enables us to participate in fulfilling God’s will of extending the love of Jesus to others. Each Sunday, children could process in with items from Lent beginning with ashes (repentance) and adding the crown of thorns (suffering) for week two, the cross (sacrifice) for week three, the shroud (burial) for week four, and the palms (our coming Savior) for week five. Streamers could also be added each week as a way of celebrating the hope of the coming resurrection.
Stations of the cross and dramas can be offered in child friendly ways for children and families to enter the experience of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are reminders of the depth of Christ’s love and sacrificial death that give understanding to the joy and miracle of Easter resurrection.