Your simple guide to Christian Easter traditions
When I first heard about Lent, I thought someone was talking about the small collections of fiber on a shirt or in the clothes dryer.
You can imagine my surprise when I learned it was an old tradition some Christians practiced during the weeks leading up to Easter. Where did all the strangely-named holidays come from?
Imagine Easter is Like College Football
Lent is like football season. The excitement of football causes you to plan ahead, buy tickets, and organize parties. You’ve been waiting all year to get together with other fans and celebrate every weekend.
If the Sundays during Lent are regular game days, Easter is the national championship. Easter is the celebration of Jesus defeating death and rising from the grave. It’s the big event and we come in celebrating because we know our team wins.
What is Lent and Why is it 40 Days?
Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Some Christians follow a Bible reading plan, pray for specific things, or fast during those 40 days.
The six Sundays during Lent are days to break the fast and enjoy feasts in anticipation of Easter Sunday. The dates change every year, but the celebrations are based on events in the Bible. Many Catholics and some Protestants follow the Lent calendar and traditions as a way to grow a deeper relationship with God.
The 40 days of Lent reflect the importance of 40-day events in the Bible, like Moses on the mountain with God (Exodus 24:18), Elijah’s travel to meet with God (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus’ time facing temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the official start of Lent. A pastor or priest smudges ash on churchgoers’ foreheads to symbolize our lives, which are mortal and temporary:
We will die someday, but that’s not the end of the story. (More on that later.) When we’re mindful that life is short, it inspires us to make the most of our lives as we follow Jesus today.
Why Do Christians Fast?
During Lent, Christians may choose to fast. Fasting is the practice of abstaining from something you enjoy for a set amount of time — such as food, caffeine, alcohol, watching TV, social media, or even sleep.
Fasting is a way Christians, for thousands of years, have reminded themselves that God is the source of life, nourishment, and everything good. Combined with prayer, fasting is a powerful way to be grateful, exercise discipline, depend on God, and listen to Him.
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week, also known as Passion Week, includes the final days the Bible records of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is named for the way people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, placing palm branches on the road as a sign of honor because He was the king they had been waiting for (John 12:12-19).
What is Holy Thursday?
Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is traditionally considered the day Jesus ate a Passover Seder meal with His friends (Matthew 26:17-30). Maundy Thursday is named for the Latin word that means “command,” because of His instruction for His followers to “love one another,” which He demonstrated by serving — washing their feet (John 13:31-35).
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is the day Jesus was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, crucified, and buried (Matthew 26:47-68, Matthew 27:11-61). His friends went home, overwhelmed by fear and believing all was lost.
What is Easter Sunday and Why is it So Important?
Easter Sunday marks the day Jesus resurrected and appeared to several witnesses and His friends (Luke 24:1-49). It’s the celebration that Jesus is alive, sin is defeated, and He has the power to make all things new.
It’s why the Church exists; without the resurrection, Christianity crumbles. It’s the answer to the question of whether good will triumph over evil, if our worst mistakes will hold us back, and if the difficult times we endure are worth the effort we give.
But you don’t get the resurrection without the crucifixion.
You don’t get the glory without the grit.
We don’t get to experience the power of a changed life and belonging unless we go through the pain and suffering of what came before. Jesus made it through before, and He can bring us through anything we face today.
Someone you know desperately needs that hope. You can give it to them.