Jesus and John the Baptist each spent time fasting (going without eating) in the desert before entering into ministry.
Fasting is one way Christians prepare to serve God. The season of Lent is a time of preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, when pastors mark the foreheads of Christians with ashes as a reminder that all Christians are created from dust and to dust they shall return.
Lent follows Jesus from his adult ministry through his suffering during Holy Week to his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. The Psalms foretold what would happen during that week.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, also called the Sunday of the Passion, and continues through Holy Thursday (when Holy Communion was instituted at the Last Supper) and Good Friday, when Jesus was tried, crucified, and buried.
Because the Last Supper was celebrated during the Feast of the Passover, which is calculated on the phases of the moon, Easter is called a movable feast. Lent is scheduled backward from Easter. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. The forty days of fasting and penitence during Lent do not include Sundays. Christians always celebrate Sunday as the day Jesus rose from the dead, so it is never a day of fasting.
Many Northern Europeans celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday, mardi gras (French for Fat Tuesday, also called Shrove Tuesday), by eating up everything good in the house that medieval Christians believed was inappropriate to eat during Lent (eggs, milk, butter, cream, meat). This celebration has expanded into all sorts of festivals all over the world.
Most modern Christians do eat some - or all - of those foods during Lent, following a modified fast.
Lent is a time of stripping down to essentials, as each Christian focuses on his or her individual relationship with God. No one asks another person to do without or to suffer during Lent - the sacrificial observance is private and personal. No Christian uses Lent an as excuse for self-righteousness. The focus of Lent is to study more deeply, to pray more sincerely, and to show greater kindness.
During Lent Christians remember their baptisms, when Jesus washed away all sins, giving newness of life to celebrate the triumph of Palm Sunday and the glory of Easter. Many early Christians were baptized on Easter Sunday, so Lent became a special time of study and prayer in preparation for their baptisms. Later entire congregations joined in the study and prayer as they looked forward to the anniversaries of their baptisms on Easter.
Because Lent is a time of letting go of the bondage of sin, it is also a time of celebrating the freedom from the bondage of slavery. At the Feast of the Passover, all Jews give thanks for their freedom from the captivity of the Egyptians.
They remember Moses, their leader, when they perform Out of Egypt.
And Christians give thanks for the freedom of all slaves in every culture everywhere when they sing Go Down, Moses (With One Voice 670).
"Grains of Wheat (Una Espiga)" from the Libro De Liturgia Y Cantico, published by Augsburg Fortress, is a good communion hymn to teach to children to learn how Jesus brought the sacrament of Holy Communion into everyone's lives.
The color of Lent is purple.
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