The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian gospel, and Good Friday and Easter are two of the most significant celebrations of the Christian year. Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter. Just as we carefully prepare for big events in our personal lives, such as a wedding or a commencement, Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

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Worship Ideas for Lent

The practice of a forty-day preparation period began in the Christian church during the third and fourth centuries. The number forty carries biblical significance based on the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness and Jesus' forty-day fast in the wilderness. The forty days of Lent begin on Ash Wednesday and continue into Holy Week. Many Catholics and Protestants fast in Lent, at least to some extent, or give up something else they are fond of. The idea is to imitate Jesus' fast in the wilderness, to express remorse for sin, to discipline one's life, to save something extra for the poor, and, not least, to sharpen the appetite for Easter feasting.

Roman Catholic and some Protestant congregations mark the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday by imposing the sign of the cross in ash on the brows of believers. (The ash is often created by burning the dried palm branches from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration.) As a period of preparation, Lent has historically included the instruction of persons for profession of faith and baptism on Easter Sunday, the calling back of those who have become estranged from the church, and efforts by all Christians to mortify the sins that cling to them and to vivify or robustly encourage tendencies to lead a Christ-like life. Meditation on Christ's atoning death is entirely proper in Lent, but so is a hearty turn toward Resurrection Sunday. Lent's destination is Easter. Without it, we would be unwilling to suffer the death of our sinful old self. The only willing suffering is suffering in hope.

The traditional color for the Lenten season is purple. Some congregations, especially Roman Catholic ones, choose to highlight the contrast between Lent and Eastertide (the period from Easter to Ascension Day, Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday) by omitting the singing of "Alleluia" during the Lenten season. Many Protestant congregations choose to observe Lent by centering Sunday worship on repentance. Others stress that all Sundays, even in Lent, are "little Easters" and thus may appropriately center not just on repentance, but also on praise.

When: forty days before Easter, not including Sundays, beginning on Ash Wednesday [hyperlink
Liturgical Color: purple
Associated objects/symbols: cross, ashes

See also Ash Wednesday, Palm or Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday 

Ideas for Lent from Scripture


Reflection on how great our sins and miseries are sharpens our sense of the need for the grace of our Savior. Sorrow for sin, honest confession, and deliberate amendment of our sinful lives is the basic drama of everyday Christian life at the intersection of sin and grace. Lent is a time to get very thoughtful at that intersection, taking to heart our plight and God's mercy.

Practices of Fasting and Repentance

The beginning of Lent often also marks the beginning of a time of fasting. During Lent many people answer the call to holiness and repentance by either abstaining from a harmful or distracting habit or committing to a spiritual practice to grow in faithfulness. Giving up a vice of some sort should be thought of not simply as a temporary practice, but as something that could or should continue beyond Lent—not as a public display of holiness, but as a move towards faithfulness.

Psalms of Repentance

Prayers of confession and repentance can be found throughout scripture. During Lent, we shift our posture to that of confession and repentance as a means of focusing on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to forgive our sins.

Dying and Rising with Christ

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we ponder our mortality and sinfulness and thus our need to die and rise with Jesus Christ—not only in once-for-all baptism, but in the daily mortification of our old self and vivification of our new self. Through deliberate forms of self-denial, Christians in Lent open their hearts to the self-giving grace of Jesus Christ and their own union with Christ.

The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word that has to do with spring and the fact that in the northern hemisphere days in spring lengthen. Put together the dust representing human mortality and the water needed for baptism on Easter Sunday and what you get in Lent is mud season. Reflection on our mortality in Lent is a salutary spiritual exercise. If you walk through a cemetery and reflect on the fact that six feet under lie a number of well-dressed skeletons, and that one's own chances of joining them one day are high, a lot of other things in life get cast in a new light.

Reflections on Lent

Just as Jesus prepared for his ministry with forty days in the desert, so too early followers of The Way entered a forty-day season of preparation in advance of initiation into the Christian community and their first joyful participation in the Eucharist. This pattern of preparation for baptism was established and documented by the fourth century. Its purpose expands to include all Christians in a season of active remembrance of baptism, calling people to abandon everything that detracts from their primary loyalty: an allegiance claiming them for Christ in baptism.

Affirmations of Faith for Lent

Belgic Confession, Article 21

We believe
that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek—
made such by an oath—
and that he presented himself
in our name before his Father,
to appease his Father’s wrath
with full satisfaction
by offering himself
on the tree of the cross
and pouring out his precious blood
for the cleansing of our sins,
as the prophets had predicted.
For it is written
that “the punishment that made us whole”
was placed on the Son of God
and that “by his bruises we are healed.”
He was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”;
he was “numbered with the transgressors”
and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate,
though Pilate had declared
that he was innocent.
So he paid back
what he had not stolen,
and he suffered—
“the righteous for the unrighteous,”
in both his body and his soul—
in such a way that
when he sensed the horrible punishment required by our sins
“his sweat became like great drops of blood
falling down on the ground.”
He cried, “My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
And he endured all this
for the forgiveness of our sins.
Therefore we rightly say with Paul that
we know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”;
we “regard everything as loss
because of the surpassing value
of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord.”
We find all comforts in his wounds
and have no need to seek or invent any other means
to reconcile ourselves with God
than this one and only sacrifice,
once made,
which renders believers perfect forever.
This is also why the angel of God called him Jesus—
that is, “Savior”—
because he would save his people
from their sins.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 37–39

What do you understand by the word “suffered”?
That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race. This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?
So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by a civil judge, and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.

Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?
Yes. This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.

Canons of Dort, Part II, Articles 2–5, 8

The Satisfaction Made by Christ
Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God’s wrath, God in boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

The Infinite Value of Christ’s Death
This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

Reasons for this Infinite Value
This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is—as was necessary to be our Savior—not only a true and perfectly holy human, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God’s wrath and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death
For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that Christ should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death). It was also God’s will that Christ should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

Westminster Confession, Chapter VIII, Section 4

This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he may discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died; was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

Our World Belongs to God, stanzas 24–26

God remembered his promise
to reconcile the world to himself;
he has come among us in Jesus Christ,
the eternal Word made flesh.
He is the long-awaited Savior,
fully human and fully divine,
conceived by the Spirit of God
and born of the virgin Mary.

In the events of his earthly life—
his temptations and suffering,
his teaching and miracles,
his battles with demons and talks with sinners—
Jesus made present in deed
and in word the coming rule of God.

As the second Adam
he chose the path we had rejected.
As our representative,
serving God perfectly,
and loving even those who scorned him,
Christ showed us how
a righteous child of God lives.


Introduction from The Worship Sourcebook, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013], 557.