Do You have Questions about Lent, Easter & Other Churchy Words?
March 1, 2021 | View PDF
Ash Wednesday. Lent. Palm Sunday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Easter.
The Season of Lent and Easter are full of strange names and words that many people do not understand. I have found that a great many people do not know the meaning and significance of these “Churchy” words and Holidays in the Season of Lent and Easter. In fact, most people probably don’t know that the word “holiday” comes from the old English word “Haligdaeg” which literally means “Holy Day.”
So, let’s see if we can help out with some of these “Churchy” words of Lent and Easter...
Two billion Christians around the world are challenged to participate in what the Christian Church calls the Season of Lent! What is Lent?
Lent is a season of preparation and reflection that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues till Easter Sunday. It is the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter not counting Sundays, and it is traditionally a time for prayer, fasting and scripture reading. For 2021, Ash Wednesday was on February 17 and Easter Sunday is on April 4th. Therefore, Lent in 2021, involves the entire month of March.
In this six-week long celebration of Lent on the Christian calendar, Christ followers are “encouraged to find their own method of confronting their sinfulness, remembering their mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation they receive through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (United Methodist Book of Worship) The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) term “Lencten” which refers to the lengthening of days. It also literally translates to Spring or Springtime.
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Pastors and Priests gather the ashes from the burnt palm branches from the previous years Palm Sunday worship service. They mix those ashes with anointing oil, and then, on Ash Wednesday, they mark the foreheads of Christ followers with the sign of the cross as they bless them in their journey of preparation in the Season of Lent. Often Pastors or Priests will quote Genesis 3:19, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
“In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Lent is also connected to the 40-day fast that Jesus undergoes in the Judaean wilderness. The accounts of Jesus fasting and praying in this desert are found in Mark 1:13, Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11. This 40 days of fasting and prayer for Jesus was the season of preparation for his mission as the Messiah and teacher of the Gospel (Gospel means Good News) and for his death on the cross as the Savior of the world.
The official end of Lent for 2021 will be on Saturday, April 3, the day before Easter. The final week of Jesus’ earthly life is called “Holy Week” which begins with Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter Sunday. This is the day Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem where throngs of believers waved palm branches and laid them at his feet in celebration of the arrival of the Jewish Messiah. Many churches celebrate Palm Sunday (so named because of the Palm branches waved before Jesus and laid in Jesus’ path) with children and/or adults marching into the service waving palm branches while the congregation is singing “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”!
Holy Week also involves several other special Holy days of remembrance. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week and derives its name from the Latin word “Mandatum” which means mandate or commandment. Because Jesus issued a new commandment at the Last Supper, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.” On this day Christ followers also remember and celebrate together the Last Supper. Jesus, at this Last Supper, instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion when he informed his disciples that the bread and the wine at the meal represented his body and his blood. Jesus told them that his body, symbolized by the bread, would be offered on the cross for all people and that the wine represented his blood that would be shed on the cross for the sins of the entire world. Many churches offer this Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week and gather to celebrate communion together in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and the mandate that he gave to love one another.
The other Holy Week service that many churches offer is the “Good Friday” service. Good Friday is the Friday of Holy Week when Jesus was crucified on a cross for the sins of the world.
In this service, Christ followers often recount the seven last words or quotes of Jesus from the cross. It is a somber service usually associated with candles and darkness as we remember the suffering of the Lord on the cross for our sins. Many people wonder why it is called “Good Friday” since the torture and the agony was so tragic and horrific for Jesus? It is called “Good Friday” because through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross our salvation was secured. The price for our sins was paid on the cross by Jesus! It was a “good” day for all of the sinners of the world, which includes you, me and everyone else.
Holy Saturday is the day before Easter and is traditionally known for big Easter Egg Hunts and Resurrection parties for the children. Saint James Church, where I serve as Lead Pastor, does a huge Easter Egg Hunt Celebration every year on this day and it is a big day of fun, games, candy and laughter.
Easter Sunday marks the end of the Season of Lent and the joyous celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Easter is Resurrection Sunday, and it is by far the biggest, most glorious day on the Christian calendar for the Christ follower. On Easter Day, Resurrection
Sunday, we acknowledge and celebrate our liberation from sin, the gift of grace and the joy of salvation. The resurrection of Jesus defeated death and sin once and for all. Our forgiveness is secured and our salvation from sin and death is guaranteed!
The name “Easter” was derived from the Old English name “Eosturmonath” which was the name of the month in which Easter was celebrated. The name stuck. Personally, I prefer “Resurrection Sunday” instead of Easter, but that is another story for another day.
I encourage you to find a church family that offers you opportunities to remember, prepare and reflect in this Season of Lent, and be sure to find a church to celebrate this Easter/Resurrection Sunday!
Happy Lent and Easter to you!