Lent and Easter
The season of Lent lasts for forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Day.
It begins on what is called “Ash Wednesday.”
Traditionally, it has been a time of self-denial when people give up sweets and chocolate, avoid parties and take time to think on what life and faith are really all about. That is why the day before Ash Wednesday is “Pancake Day” or “Mardi Gras” (enjoying sweet pancakes and a carnival before Lent begins).
It all goes back to the story of Jesus living in the desert for forty days before his ministry began. There, he wrestled with temptation to do things the wrong way and, in these days of isolation, was able to surrender himself to God’s will and to God’s way of doing things. And although he faced “the devil” head on, he was also helped by “angels.”
In the URC we do not impose any kind of fasting or “penance” during Lent but we do encourage people to take some time to think and to pray; to face up to what might be going wrong in our lives and to ask for help where we need it. Times of reflection are important to us all.
At St John’s Church we run a weekly Lent Study Group, usually on Sunday evenings through Lent. These meetings tend to be a very mixed group, often of people who have not had the chance to talk together before and we learn a lot from one other.
Holy Week comes at the end of Lent.
It begins with Palm Sunday, when we remember how Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey and was cheered as a King. A large cross, covered with Palm leaves and with a laurel wreath at its’ head stands at the front of the church and, like the crowds in Jerusalem, we sing songs of praise and acclamation.
But towards the end of the service, the children come forward and strip the palm leaves from the cross, leaving it bare. The laurel wreath is replaced by a crown of thorns, as we remember that Jesus’ “kingship” was nothing like that of the Kings and Emperors we have known. Palm crosses are given out to everyone to take home as a reminder that following Jesus as “King” is about offering service rather than claiming privilege.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the last day Jesus spent with his disciples (special friends and followers) before he was arrested and executed. At his Last Supper with them, he broke bread and poured wine, shared it with them and asked them to take it as his body, which would be broken for them and his lifeblood, which would be poured out for them. This was, he said, the start of a new relationship with God, made possible because of his death.
At St John’s Church we eat supper together and then break bread and share wine in Jesus’ name- this is what we call Holy Communion. We then remember how Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples and asked them to pray with him as he faced what was coming.
Good Friday is the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Although known to be innocent of the charges brought against him by people who hated him, he was condemned to be crucified by the Roman Governor, rather than risk a political/social uprising. Jesus became the “scapegoat,” not only for the sins of the people at the time but for the sins of all human beings. For whenever we do wrong, we hurt not only ourselves but many others too. In Orpington, all the churches unite for a service, followed by a walk of Witness through the town centre, concluding with an act of worship in the Market Square towards the end of the morning.
Easter Saturday is a quiet day in many churches. At St John’s however we hold our Easter Family Party for children aged up to 11 and their parents/carers. It is an opportunity for families to come together and celebrate Holy Week through craft and conversation, music and story, tea and a chocolate egg hunt.
Easter Sunday is a festival day as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Even before Christianity, there were celebrations around this time of the year, as the light returned after winter darkness and as the flowers grew again over the bleak winter landscape. Christ’s resurrection is a celebration of the renewing power of life and of God’s ultimate victory over evil and death. At St John’s Church, we hold a festival service during which flowers are placed on the cross left bare at the end of Palm Sunday, making it a thing of beauty and hope.
WALKING THE WAY-protection through dark places
Life has many dark places, when we feel that we have lost our way or have been pushed somewhere we do not want to be. Everyone can name their own dark places and this year, during the season of Lent, we shall be looking at how we might be protected from the dangers that these dark places hold. How can we be saved from falling into despair, anger, violence (against ourselves or others), wrongdoing and fear? Through Lent we shall be examining what St Paul called “the armour of God.” (See Ephesians 6, verses 10-17) What does God offer us for protection as we walk through dark places?
For specific dates and times of all our Easter services in Orpington, please see our services page.