Living Lent: Focus on Conversion and Baptism as You Plan Your Lenten Services
Lent is the season of preparation for renewal of our baptismal covenant, a time of inward and outward journey to encounter the risen Lord at Easter.
Consider the following as you plan for worship during Lent:
Begin the journey. Some churches start Lent on Ash Wednesday, using ashes made of the previous year's palm leaves used on Palm Sunday [The United Methodist Book of Worship [BOW], No. 320-324].
Focus on conversion. Use the Revised Common Lectionary (see the BOW, No. 230-231; or go to www.gbod.org/worship/lectionary). Use the readings as an outline on the great themes of conversion and baptism, but don't turn worship into a classroom. Focus on the stories and the journey.
Embrace the new birth aspect of the season. Lent has ancient roots in forming people to be born anew in Easter baptisms. This is a season when the church should birth new Christians; otherwise it manufactures reasons to observe Lent. "During this season, converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism" (BOW, No. 322). This is also a good time for confirmation preparation and readying parents to present their children for baptism.
Keep the tone of worship aimed at Easter. Lenten Sundays are "little Easters." Use the lectionary readings to guide hymns and prayer selections.
Climax the journey with full-bore Holy Week and Easter worship. Passion/Palm Sunday through Easter should be an intensive engagement with the gospel, so stretch your worship muscles. Services should be experiential moments to enter into the passion of Jesus Christ. Engage the senses—use storytelling; readings; or actions, such as foot washing or candle lighting.
Invite families to keep times of prayer and self-denial. Invite families to say "no" to something (overeating, excessive spending), and "yes" to God and their community (visiting a shut-in or volunteering for a church or community project).
Preach and plan worship around this progression, focusing on continuous transformation. Tell the stories powerfully and let them do their converting work.
[Go to www.interpretermagazine.org for an expanded version of this article and more resources.]
—Daniel Benedict is worship resources director at the General Board of Discipleship.
How Lent began
by Hoyt Hickman
Lent began in the early church as the time for intensive final preparation and examination of candidates for baptism at Easter.
Candidates spent as much as three years in preparation that was more like apprenticeship than classroom instruction. This concluded with a time of "scrutinies" that became what we know as Lent. It was a time of self-examination and of scrutiny by other Christians to determine if a candidate was ready for baptism.
Later, when large numbers of adult candidates were no longer being baptized, Lent became a time when all Christians were challenged to seek spiritual renewal.
The first recorded reference to Lent as 40 days was at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. This time came to be seen as comparable to Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, when he fasted and prepared himself for his ministry.
Lent actually lasts 46 days, but the six Sundays in Lent do not count as part of the 40 because Sunday is a festive celebration of Jesus' resurrection. Even in Lent, every Sunday is a "little Easter."
—The Rev. Hoyt Hickman, Nashville, Tenn., is an author, educator and church worship expert.