Introduction to Lent

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem”–Luke 9:51

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer. ” (From the Book of Common Prayer, 265).

Lent is…

A time of penance during which we work on holy disciplines that make room for God to make our hearts right.

A time during which we prepare to walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week and to the cross.

The time during which the early Church focused on preparation for baptism.

A time to be reminded of God’s forgiveness and our deep need for God.

A time to remember and reflect on how we might life in light of God’s love and forgiveness during Lent and all year.

Gathering Activity

Noticing Sacred Space: Many of the children in your class will already know that the Lenten season has begun. For those who have just come from one of the liturgies, they will see many of the changes in our Nave, mostly obviously our cross which is draped with purple and the Priests’ vestments which have changed from green to purple. Invite students to share their observations about our worship space. What is different? Why is purple the color of Lent? Is it similar to Advent (during both times we anticipate the arrival of King Jesus). If your students didn’t notice the changes, take a trip upstairs to check it out! Remind them to share their observations with their parents.

The Sign of the Cross: Remind your students that Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Remind or share with your class what happens at the Ash Wednesday service.  We go to church and our foreheads are marked with Ashes in the shape of the cross. The priest said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This helps us think about Jesus’ death on the cross and even our own. This might be a hard concept for some of our children, but they may understand the significance better by experiencing the movement. Invite your students to find a partner and take turns making the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads. Some of your students may remember that this is the same gesture we make with water when we remember our baptism. Share some of the meanings of Lent–it is a time of remembering our own sin, God’s forgiveness, and preparing for (or remembering) our baptisms.

Lent Books: We have many wonderful books about Lent in our Christian Education Cabinet. Feel free to use some of these as a way to start your class as students begin to gather for the day.

Responding to Lent

(1.) Countdown Calendars:

a. Paper chain countdowns are popular and some children in your class may have done them before. They provide an excellent visual for the journey through the days of Lent and Holy Week.  As a class or individually, make a paper chain countdown to Easter.  Use 39 purple strips (for Ash Wednesday and the days of Lent), 5 red strips (for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week), 1 black strip (for Good Friday), 1 White or Gold Strip (for Easter).  Mark the first purple strip with a cross using a black marker. This strip is for Ash Wednesday. Good Friday can also be marked with a cross (chalk may be best on the black paper), Easter can be marked with the image of a butterfly or an empty tomb (both signs of the resurrection).

b. Conventional Calendar: You can download and print off the block calendar that is provided here (to fit an 11×17 you will want to blow it up to 129% on your computer) or make your own on one of the 11×17 sheets of copy paper we have in the supply closet. When you gather on Sunday mornings in Lent, you can count the total number of days in Lent that have passed and mark each day with a cross. This counting exercise may help our youngest children experience the length of Lent and have continuity from week to week.

(2.) Lenten Self Portraits: Give each child a square or quarter sheet of purple paper. Ask them to draw a picture of themselves. Once they are finished, have them mark the sign of the cross on their forehead with charcoal or chalk (We should have some in the supply closet). On the bottom of their page, children of writing age may write: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Discuss the significance of this statement which is first spoken by God to Adam in Genesis 3:19:

By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.’

I am unable to find the original source for this image. If you happen to know, please let me know and I will link and credit it.

(3.) Memorizing Prayers and Scripture:

a. Prayer of Confession (Older Children): Work with your class each week during Lent to memorize the Prayer of Confession from the Book of Common Prayer.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us that we may delight in your will and walk in your way, to the glory of your name. Amen.

b. Luke 9:51 (Younger Children).

(4.) Lenten Prayer Tree: The word Lent comes from the Latin “lencten” or lengthening, referring to the lengthening days as we slowly transition from the dead of winter to the joy and life of Spring. Fortunately for us the Triangle is looking extra wintery this week. If you feel that it is safe to do so, take your class on a walk outside. Notice together how Lent begins at a time when everything in the natural world is quiet and appears to be dead. Look for a few branches to bring back to your class.  Once you have returned discus how Lent is a time when the world turns from winter to Spring, and we spend time clearing all of the sin from our lives, so that we can make room for the life that is given in Christ.

Put your branches in a vase and give each child a purple ribbon. Ask them to think about the things they have done in their lives that might be considered sins–talking back to mom or dad, picking on a brother or sister. Or maybe there is someone they know who they find difficult to love. As each child thinks of something or someone, invite them to tie their ribbon on your Lenten prayer tree.  This movement is an act of confession or prayer. In the coming weeks, you may want to carve out the same space for confession, thanksgivings, or petitions. Each time children can tie something to the tree–a ribbon, paper leaf, or paper flower. By the end of Lent, your class will have a blooming tree filled with new life!

Close with Prayer and a Feast!

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