By Julie Schumacher Martin
Taking Time to Prepare for Easter
You know that, as Christians, we are Easter people. Thanks to Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday, we are able to live every moment of our lives with the joy and freedom of salvation. Easter isn’t just one day on the calendar, an extra-special sermon to write, or a big event to plan: it is the culmination of God’s plan and the living, ever-present truth of our lives.
So, if we are Easter people . . . why observe Lent?
Lent consists of the forty days (with the exception of Sundays) that precede Good Friday, and it has its origins in the early church—the earliest documentation and regulation of the practice dates back to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the Saturday before Easter or the Thursday before Easter, depending on the denomination. Observed today in liturgical and nonliturgical denominations, Lent is intended as a period of penitence and self-reflection, with observers giving up routine indulgences or adopting personal habits to focus their attention on what Christ sacrificed for us.
Penitence. Self-reflection. Giving things up. Somber contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice. That’s a far cry from getting a group of church friends together on a Saturday to hide Easter eggs for kids! And yet, taking the forty days before Easter to prepare the hearts of your community for the life-altering victory of the Resurrection can also bring people in your ministry closer to God and further engage them in the joy of your Easter celebration.
With the myriad of things on your ministry to-do list, crafting a six-week-long season in your calendar might sound arduous—but there are several simple ways you can approach Lent with your church community . . .
3 Simple Ways to Approach Lent within Your Church Community
Start a Personal Journey
The forty days of Lent mirror the forty days that Christ spent fasting in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; and Luke 4:1–13). The choice of forty days for the Easter-preparation period encourages us to imitate Jesus. Our Savior lived a perfect life on earth, keeping God’s Law, teaching, and loving with humility and grace. We aim to live like Jesus, and Lent is a reminder that such a life does not always involve being surrounded by crowds of fans and friends. In the wilderness, Jesus was alone—facing temptation and relying on God: ultimately, the journey to the cross that each person in your ministry takes is a personal and individual one.
If you would like to set the people in your congregation off on a personal journey to the joy of Easter, consider providing each member with a resource to guide them. This article lists forty distinct prayer prompts and personal challenges, one for each day of Lent. You can send home this list (or one that you create based on the specific interests and needs of your congregation) with each member of your church before Ash Wednesday so they can work through the daily prompts in any order they choose—or you can email or post one prompt each day, to encourage members in their individual practices.
Prayer journals are another excellent way to promote personal growth in faith. With a journaling habit, the people in your ministry are urged to think about God’s Word and its role in their own lives. Hand out journals before the start of Lent and post a simple “Remember to journal today!” cue at the same time every day.
Perhaps you want to urge the people you serve to make the forty-day walk to Christ’s cross in any way that would be meaningful for them as they seek to follow Jesus. Someone might join a gym—or quit going to the gym quite so obsessively. Someone might try to smile more or get more sleep or prioritize spending time with friends. There are many ways that God’s light can shine through our lives, and he is still working in us and with us, even as we think about what he already did to save us! Consider handing out a Scripture bracelet or faith token to each member of your ministry before Lent begins, along with encouragement to use it as a reminder to imitate Jesus for the next forty days. The effect could be transformative!
For most people, Easter is probably one of the biggest events in the Church year, one that brings people of all ages and personalities together. There is no reason that Lent can’t become the same relationship-strengthening season in your faith family, with six weeks to make connections and deepen the impact! Easter preparation can be a wonderful way to build community within your church—you could think of it almost as a forty-day-long, Christ-focused version of gathering friends together to hide Easter eggs on a Saturday.
Customize a thematic series of sermons like these for the Sundays preceding Easter or create your own. Be sure to use the included discussion questions for members to talk about in their small groups or during Bible study hours. By linking the content that people hear in church with what they discuss with their peers, you can encourage everyone in your ministry to take the walk to the cross together.
If your faith community likes a good challenge, consider introducing one churchwide challenge per week in the six weeks before Easter. These can be anything from a call to give up screen time for an hour each day and spend time reading the Bible instead, to an appeal to help take care of God’s creation by carpooling with neighbors. Choose to address issues, big or small, that present some difficulty for the people you serve. Christ did not turn away from the greatest challenge of all—giving up his life for us, his friends. In imitating him, time away from one’s smartphone should not seem so inconceivable.
One impactful way to prepare to honor the sacrifice and victory of the great Servant Leader is to organize an ongoing service project for the six weeks before Easter weekend. Identify a need in your community and the current solutions—a food bank, a women’s shelter, or after-school tutoring for disadvantaged kids. Encourage people in your church to sign up to help on-site, collect or deliver materials, or work behind the scenes by providing another service (accounting, filing, keeping inventory, etc.). Commit to help for the full duration of Lent—or even longer. See what a difference Jesus can make in the lives of your parishioners as they make a difference in the lives of others.
Set the Tone
Lent can be a somber time. As we make our own small sacrifices and devotional habits, we are reminded constantly of the greatest sacrifice and devotion: Jesus’ death on a cross for our sake. Sometimes all that is needed to focus hearts on the journey to Easter is a contemplative tone in your messaging. Save the celebratory emojis and bright colors for the next season—Lent can be quiet and thoughtful.
But as you lean into this time of thinking about our Savior’s deep love and ultimate sacrifice, don’t forget: his love and sacrifice are for us. Jesus performed his miracles, suffered unthinkable pain, and died a humiliating death out of love for us. These were not simply heroic acts, performed long ago for other people, to be admired in hindsight; they are the catalyst for the real, live relationship that we currently have with God. Each and every one of us is precious—today!—to Jesus. What an incredible gift!
What is more, it’s true: we are Easter people. Whatever practices your faith community chooses to adopt during Lent, we have all read the spoilers; we know how Lent ends, in victory and life and eternity! These forty days can be a reflective time, but they are also saturated with the knowledge that we live now as saved and treasured children of a living God.
May Jesus bless you and those you serve, however you prepare to celebrate his resurrection!