The season of Lent was established on the pattern of fasting and praying for forty days by Jesus’ time in wilderness before He started His earthly ministry (cf Matt 4:1-11), as well as 40-day fasts of Moses (cf. Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:8-9) in the Old Testament. These fasts prepared each of them for their work.
For Lutherans, repentance is an important part of being a child of God, and during the season of Lent we put greater focus on our repentance as we remember and observe the passion and suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. More recently, there is a resurgence of incorporating the ancient understanding of Lent as a time for baptismal preparation and renewal. Baptisms on Easter were and are celebrated even today in many Christian denominations, using the 40 days (not including Sundays) of the Lenten season to prepare for or to remember our own baptisms.
And so, to reflect these themes during the Lenten season, our worship patterns change accordingly:
- We refrain from singing the word “Alleluia” (which means “Praise the Lord”) in our worship services. I have always considered a type of “word fast”, where we welcome this beautifully expressive word of praise back into our worship on Easter!
- We sing the “Kyrie” (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy) after the Confession and Forgiveness in the service.
- The Gospel Acclamation is changed from “Alleluia! Lord to whom shall we go” to “Return to the Lord your God”, whose text is taken from Joel 2:13.
- We place purple paraments on the altar and the lectern. Purple has long been associated with royalty, and our Prince of Peace reigns, even from the cross.
- The processional cross we use at Bethlehem for Lent is a simple, wooden cross – again, reflecting the penitential nature of the season.
- We are thankful to be able to gather again for our Midweek Lenten services at Bethlehem Lutheran, after an absence because of COVID. We share a simple meal of soup and bread, then gather for an Evening Prayer service.
We are trying an old tradition this Lenten season at Bethlehem – it’s called Burying the Alleluia. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? At Bethlehem we said farewell to the Alleluia on Transfiguration Sunday, February 12th. A couple of our congregation members created an Alleluia banner, which was placed in a special wooden box by the youth of the congregation, and it was placed behind the altar (some congregations actually bury it in the ground!), to be opened again and used for the processional on Easter. Each member of the congregation also received a small wooden chest, and placed a slip of paper with the word “Alleluia” written on it to take home, as a remembrance of this Lenten season.
Lutherans are not required to fast, but are certainly encouraged and supported if they wish to observe Lent by fasting, or giving up something they feel is a meaningful sacrifice. Others incorporate special devotionals and prayers for the season.
What changes might you observe in your own church worship services during the Lenten season? May grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love! Amen.