This church season begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday through Easter Day) and lasts forty days, plus the Sundays. Lent is an important time in the church and for our families. It was has been a time for preparation for Easter, which included baptism of converts to the faith and reconciliation of those who either left the church or of sinners who had been publicly excommunicated from the church. It is a time to get ready to enter into the mystery of Easter. Lent, historically, is a time of fasting, penitence, almsgiving (charity work), prayer and study for those being baptized, reconciled, or those wishing to grow closer to God. Currently, we are asked to use Lent as a time for personal and collective transformations. We look truthfully at ourselves and make changes.
We see two major scripture stories that use the forty days as a time of great change. The children of Israel, were led out of bondage into freedom, but ended up spending time in the wilderness to prepare for their promised land. Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days to prepare for his ministry. As these stories represent, we can use Lent to break our bonds, make new choices and begin a new direction for hearts and lives.
When most people think of Lent, they think of giving up a food item for six weeks. I like to give families a new practice and a time to focus on their relationship with God and each other. Giving them the tools for spiritual practices and discussions during this time is important. Some of the offerings I give families are Lent Home Kits, Lent Challenges, Jesus Doll and Home Kit, Ways to Pray and Give, and Devotionals.
Holy Week will be covered in Another blog.
Lent Home Kits- Lent-in-a-Bag is one of the most popular of our take home activities. The bags are handed out on the first Sunday of Lent (one per family). The bag contains six objects and devotions. I place the object in a snack size back and staple the devotion to the bag. I, also, put a booklet with all the Bible reading for each devotion. I find that busy families will not take the time to go and get a Bible, so this guarantees that scripture will be read. Each week, after dinner or before bedtime, the family gathers together. One object with devotion is bulled from the Lent-in-a-Bag. Someone reads the devotion and accompanying scripture. There is a discussion and prayer said. It does not take long, but families are so excited, especially the children, it is hard to get them to wait a week in-between.
Buying items in bulk helps keep the cost down to a little over $1 a bag.
Each year, I choose a different theme. In 2019, I did “Journey into the Wilderness” with each scripture and devotion being about someone who from scripture who had to go to the wilderness or a dark time before they did their work.
For 2020, the theme was “Praying with Jesus”. Each scripture and devotion is about one of the times Jesus used prayer before a major act or immediately after: Before his ministry started, the wilderness (the object was a rock), before choosing the 12 apostles (the object was a star), before the Transfiguration (the object was a battery-operated tea candle), and before he was arrested (the object was a cross). After he fed the 5000 (the object was a fish). He taught how to pray (the object is a scroll with the Lord’s Prayer).
Examples of devotions:
Before choosing his 12 apostles, Jesus went to pray. He continued in prayer all night. Read Luke 6:12-16. Why do you think he prayed before choosing the 12? Why pray all night? When do you pray? What if before major choices, we prayed, do you think it would make a difference? We think of stars as important and even call some people a star. What if we made Jesus our star this Lent. What would that look like? As you pass around the star, name one thing about Jesus that you admire. Say a prayer asking Jesus to be your star.
Before Jesus’ transfiguration, Jesus took a few of his disciples and went up on the mountain to pray. Read Luke 9: 28-36. Jesus became filled with light and glowed, as well as, spoke to two prophets from a long time ago. When we are in darkness, we use light to help us see. What else do we use light for? When are times that you were afraid and a light made you feel better? Turn on the candle. We depend on light. What if we relied on Jesus, like we relied on light? As you pass the candle, say a prayer and each name one place in your life that you will include Jesus as the center (the light.)
After Jesus feeds a large crowd, Jesus sends his friends on and goes to pray. He had tried to spend time in prayer before the feeding, but had compassion on the crowd. Read Matthew 14: 13-23. Just as Jesus fed the crowd food, prayer feeds our souls. It helps us connect with God. What are some things that feed you (helps you feel excited and full of energy?) When you are tired, what feeds you (helps you to feel better?) What is a way you can connect to God? Think of a short sentence that you could use to pray continuously to God (i.e. God be with me.) Fish need care. Our souls need care. Pass around the fish and say your short sentence as a prayer. When the last one has said their prayer, say the Lord’s Prayer together.
Surprisingly, Jesus does not tell his disciples about prayer; he just does it. One, finally, asks Jesus to teach them how to pray. Read Luke 11: 10-8. This is what we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is the only prayer Jesus taught us. He starts by acknowledging God’s will is the most important then asks for the things we need to survive and moves into asking forgiveness for our sins (trespasses), but on the condition that we forgive others. Then we ask for guidance when we are faced with a difficult choice or situation. When do you pray the Lord’s Prayer? What is your favorite part? Are there other prayers you could pray that ask for the same thing? Unroll the scroll. Where is someplace you could place the scroll this week to remind all who see it to pray the Lord’s Prayer or a similar prayer? Say the Lord’s Prayer together and put the scroll in a place to remind each family member to say the prayer when they see it.
Before Easter, there was Good Friday, the crucifixion. Before the crucifixion, there was the arrest of Jesus. Before the arrest of Jesus, Jesus goes to pray. He knows what is to come and requires the strength and connection that comes with prayer. He, also, asks his friends to come and pray with him, but they keep falling asleep. Read Mark 14: 32-41. I wonder how things seem, things we are very afraid to face or do, if we went to prayer for strength and connection? When do you like to pray alone? When do you like praying in a group? When do you like praying in a community? What do you like about each? What do you not like about each? As you pass around the cross, name one emotion Jesus was probably feeling. When everyone has had a turn, say a prayer asking God to be with you when you feel those feelings. Sit in quiet with your eyes closed, letting God’s presence be with you.
Before starting his ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days. To prepare for his ministry, Jesus prayed. Read Matthew 4:6-11.
While in the wilderness, Jesus was invited to transform stone into bread. Jesus knew he was not called to do this by God. Perhaps prayer helped him to know what he was called to do. Might there be a stony place in you that needs changing? Some attitude or habit that, with a little attention, might even become a gift for you and others? When you are angry or sad, it may feel like your heart has become a rock. How does that feel? How can you help someone who has a “rock” in their heart? When we are hungry or hurting it can be hard to do the right thing. How can we remember to choose to do the right thing? Pass around the rock. Using a permanent marker, write a word that everyone can pray to help you when you feel like you are in a rocky place.
Click here to see Lent in a Bag 2019