This article is from Issue 50 of “On The Move,” a publication of new learning possibilities for churches, at one time published by The Joint Board of Christian Education of Australia and New Zealand.
Although some ideas and liturgies may appear somewhat “dated” in style, concept, imagery or language, they may nevertheless offer a spring-board for new ideas among people who find themselves leading worship, perhaps in a new context, and with some trepidation.
Reproduced with permission. May be reprinted for use in local congregations only.
All Ages Together in LENT
The season of Lent provides opportunities for the whole church family to grow in faith and knowledge.
Here are some suggestions for a Lenten program.
Celebrate Shrove Tuesday
Shrove Tuesday (pancake day!) is the eve of Lent Ash Wednesday. It’s a day with quite a history, though its association with pancakes is about all most people in our society know about it.
Where Lenten disciplines were strictly observed, this was the last chance to let off steam. The pancake tradition arose from the need to use up all the fat and meat scraps before the Lenten fast began. ‘Mardi Gras’, a term we use somewhat loosely as a fancy name for a fete or carnival, means (literally) ‘fat Tuesday and refers to this same day.
Shrove Tuesday is actually rather a mixture. Along with the carnival atmosphere is the idea of ‘shriving’, which is an old word for confessing. (‘Shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive’.) Shrove Tuesday has been observed as a day when people confess their sins and ask forgiveness so that their spirits are cleansed for the beginning of Lent.
We can make good use of Shrove Tuesday as a kind of ‘launching pad’ for an all-age Lenten program. Make it an early-evening event with pancakes to eat and fun and games for everyone. Then take some time to talk about Lent and its significance for Christian people. Suggest some ways in which families and individuals can use the season of Lent as preparation for Easter, It would be a good idea to have leaflets to give out with dates and information about special events and programs during Lent. You may also want to provide some materials for people to take home and use for devotions or other Lenten activities.
Have a time during the evening when people actually do some planning for Lent — what they will do individually or as families and what you could do together as the church family. For example, some churches have no flowers during the Sundays of Lent and really make up for it on Easter Day! If you decided to follow that pattern, everyone might like to bring flowers on Easter Saturday to help decorate for Easter Day. (This could be complicated if you have Easter weddings.) We heard of another church where during Lent they did a kind of reverse of an Advent candle ceremony. They started with seven candles on the first Sunday of Lent and snuffed one out during the service. Then each Sunday they snuffed out one more, and the final one on Good Friday. On Easter Day they had all seven candles alight, plus the Paschal candle.
Fasting – by giving something up – is an old Lenten custom. Many people think it’s a better idea to take something up like doing some special reading, or having family prayers. Families or groups within the congregation might like to think of what they could take up for Lent. Some denominations use the Sundays of Lent for special mission offerings. If your church is involved in one of these projects people might see it as something they are specially taking up for Lent.
Observe Ash Wednesday
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. From Old Testament times ashes were a symbol of penitence and mourning. Some churches observe Ash Wednesday with a ceremony in which the priest or minister marks each person with the sign of the cross on their foreheads. The mark is made with ashes which are obtained by burning the remains of the palm branches used on the previous Palm Sunday. The symbolism is quite powerful. It could be an evening service, though there is much to be said for making it an early morning one, so that people begin Lent by going to work or to school marked with the sign of the cross!
The Sundays of Lent
Look for ways of linking the Sundays of Lent so that they build toward the climax of Easter. Visual symbols are useful here. As you decide your theme for each Sunday of Lent, choose something which symbolises that theme and have it on your worship centre. Keep the symbols from the previous Sundays in a place where they can be seen and their significance recalled. Or you could have a banner on which something new is added between Sundays so that a few minutes each Sunday are spent in identifying what is new and what it means.
A song or hymn that can be used each Sunday is another way of making a link. Great care needs to go into its choice lest you find yourself stuck with one that simply can’t stand the exposure! (I write from experience!)
Re-enact the Last Supper
In the church where I worship children are as much involved in our Maundy Thursday service as the adults are. The service has had quite a long evolution. In its present form it begins in the darkened church. People gather quietly and hear a dramatised reading of the gospel narrative of Jesus and the disciples preparing to cat the Passover meal. When the narratve reaches the point where they are about to take their places at the table some candles are lit, revealing a large table set with thirteen places. Twelve of these have a bread roll on the plate and a goblet of grape juice and a serviette. After the minister has read the Last Supper narrative, people move to the table twelve at a time and each sit at one of the places. In silence they break off a piece of the roll, eat it, then take a sip from the goblet and wipe it with the serviette. When they are ready they return to their place and someone else comes to the table.
When everyone has shared in the symbolic meal the lights come up and we sing a hymn. Then we take torches and lanterns and move out into the street. We walk in silence, with several pauses at pre-arranged spots where someone reads a poem or some comment on the passion of Jesus. When we reach our destination (it happens to be an olive grove but it could be any park or garden) we hear the first part of the Gethsemane narrative and sit on the ground. The narrative continues, with pauses for the times the disciples slept as Jesus prayed. There is a longish silence at the end, broken by a solo flute or oboe. After prayers together we walk back to the church, no longer silent.
The children seem to catch the mood of the occasion. It is an annual event which has come to have great significance for our whole church family.