Ready For The Main Event
What Lent means to Christians (Shrove Tuesday, 17 February 2015)
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore understanding of the Christian season of Lent (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and three readers.
- Have available the song ‘We can fly’ by Cafe del Mar and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
LeaderI hope you have your frying pan ready for tonight – and your flour, eggs and milk, with just a little pinch of salt. Why? Because today is Pancake Day, or, Shrove Tuesday.
In the Christian calendar it marks the day before the start of the season of Lent, but what is Lent all about and does it have any relevance to us today? Let's consider some similar situations.
Reader 1 My cousin's getting married in a few weeks’ time and everything is manic. There's so much to plan and prepare. There are reservations to make, invitations to send, outfits to buy, lists to write, but it's all necessary so that the ‘Big Day’ runs without a hitch.
Reader 2 Roy Hodgson likes to get the England football squad together a few times a year to maintain the team bond and prepare for the games ahead. He talks through the tactics and checks their fitness so that, when the whistle blows, the team's performing at its best.
Reader 3During the weeks before the opening night of a West End musical, the director takes hours and hours of rehearsals with the cast. Every word, every note of music, every move is practised and practised until it’s perfect. There must be no mistakes when the curtain goes up.
Leader A time of preparation before a big event makes a lot of sense. The wedding, the football game and the musical will only be a success if the participants are prepared and the practical decisions have been sorted out.
Jesus himself did something similar. Before he began his three years of preaching, teaching and miracle working – the most important period of his life – he went out into the quiet, lonely desert of Palestine for 40 days, thinking and praying. He was preparing himself, making sure he fully understood what God wanted him to do. He wanted to be completely ready.
For Christians, Lent is a similar time of preparation. It's a period of about 40 days, too, culminating in Easter Sunday.
Easter is the most important time of the year for Christians. The events of the death and resurrection of Jesus are at the heart of the message that he has overcome the power of evil and darkness in our world and offers people like us the possibility of a new start in our lives.
In order to remind themselves of the importance of what Jesus did, Christians spend Lent reading, praying and thinking about the difference Jesus can make. Sometimes they also make personal sacrifices, giving up something they like for the 40 days. That's where the tradition comes from of giving up chocolate, alcohol, TV or other favourites – a tradition that even people with no religious belief join in with.
Time for reflection
Have you ever had any big events in your life? Apart from the examples we considered earlier, you might have a public performance, a race or sports match, maybe a qualifying round or even a final. Naturally, you'd expect me to mention exams and assessments, too! These are the culmination of your studies and often your final grade depends on a good performance in them. Maybe you have an interview, for a job, college or a placement. Finally, there are those social events that are so important to us, ranging from a first date (when it's vital we make a good impression) to the leavers' ball or prom, which will be the last big social event you share with many of your school friends.
Lent gives us a useful model for how to approach the days or weeks before any such big event.
First, during Lent, Christians are encouraged to retreat from distractions, to concentrate on Jesus, the centre of their faith. So, in a similar way, we might cut down on some of the distractions that could divert our attention from the central issue, whether it be revision, practising something or learning. Lent principles help us to focus our minds.
Second, Christians remind themselves of why they believe what they believe. They get their heads straight and create a positive frame of mind. Similarly, we might like to remember why it's important to us that we succeed in our big event to motivate ourselves to do what’s required to make it happen.
Third, many Christians allow themselves to suffer a little, to feel what it's like to be denied some of the luxuries they have. They say it helps them appreciate more fully the privileged situation in which they live.
Finally, during Lent some Christians try to slow down their pace of life, to live more simply, by, for instance, reducing their absorption in media activity – TV, films, computer games, mobile phones and music. Again, it's so they can focus on Jesus, the centre of their faith.
Ultimately, Lent is about reassessing our priorities and adjusting our lives accordingly.
Do you have a big event on the horizon, in a few days, a few weeks, a few months? I hope the principles that lie behind the Christian festival of Lent will be of some help with your preparation. Of course, you might also choose to spend Lent like millions of people around the world, reading through the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is a good place to start – it's nice and short.
Thank you for the season of Lent and the way it encourages us to refocus, to prepare.
Remind us of those events in our lives that could be big events and should be prioritized.
May we use the time we have wisely, while it's still under our control.
‘We can fly’ by Cafe del Mar