Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. Matt 9:15
Ash Wednesday is March 9 this year. Start thinking about how your family has observed (celebrated?) Lent in the past and what you will do this year. Within the next couple of days I will post about what our family will be doing this year (and maybe I'll finally get some pictures up).
Catechumens in the early Church usually were baptized into Christ on Easter eve, and so they would prepare themselves by fasting and repenting while being taught the Faith. Soul and body preparation also anticipated reception at the Lord's Table. This preparation for Easter eventually was lengthened and broadened to include all Christians.
In the West, Easter's date is determined by the phases of the moon: It is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after March 21. To determine Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, forty days are counted back from Easter, excluding Sundays. (We often forget that each Sunday is a feast itself, a mini-Easter to celebrate Christ's victory over sin, death and the devil!) The forty days is reminiscent of Jesus's forty days in the wilderness, Moses's forty days on Sinai, the forty days and nights of rain during the Great Flood, etc.
The Church sets aside Lent as a time of repentance and preparation for remembering the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Matthew 6:1-14 outlines the three traditional practices of Lent: alms, prayer,
fasting, and is a good focus point for keeping our Lent evangelical, not legalistic.
Pastor Weedon over at Weedon's Blog on keeping our fast, prayer, and charity evangelical (emphasis mine):
"The Gospels for these Sundays teach us that our salvation is a gift, not the result of our efforts; that it is accomplished by the power of God's Word; that by faith in our Jesus, we will go up to Jerusalem with Him, having our eyes opened to see that He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. With this wonderful theological grounding, we also remember the wise words of Adolf Köberle: "At all events even asceticism can be described by the paradoxical statement: Its exercise can give salvation to no one but its neglect can corrupt anyone."
So as not to fall into that corruption, the Lenten disciplines are set before us. Not as though they are tools we ought use only during the Lenten days, but as training for all our days of battling the old man in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the joyful concurrence of the new man."
Remember that these suggestions are just that--suggestions--and not a checklist of what you should do. Pick and choose. Also, take into consideration your particular situation. I will not be fasting, since I'm pregnant. Making elaborate vegetarian or traditional Lenten meals probably won't happen much either, since of late dinner prep. stresses me out. I would much rather fulfill my vocation by loving my children and husband than fulfill what the world would see as "Lenten duties." Prepare for Easter with joy and reflection!
*Change the color on your family altar or Church Year bulletin board to purple, the color of Lent and repentance. (Maybe you just have something small, like dining room table candles you can change as the church seasons change. The point is a physical reminder around the house of what time of the church year we are in.) If you have a family altar, you could place a prayer book and small "collection plate" or bank for alms, to remind the family of the Lenten focus.
*Begin a family devotional practice such as family lectionary reading (Treasury of Daily Prayer or the Daily Lectionary inside the Lutheran Service Book are wonderful resources to begin this), or simply family prayer time, if you don't already do that. If you already have your children pray the evening prayers out of the Small Catechism, start morning prayers. Maybe you can teach them to examine themselves each night, repenting to each other and God for sins committed that day (good practice to start for mom and dad, too!)
* Learn an appropriate hymn and Bible verse(s) for Lent. Ask your pastor what hymns your church will be learning or singing a lot.
* Start meeting your pastor for private confession and absolution on a regular basis.
* Read Meditations on Divine Mercy.
* Make a Jesus Tree. (I'll post more on this later.)
* Study a particular country whose Christians are under persecution. Pray for those Christians every day.
* If you say the common prayer ("Come Lord Jesus") with your kids, consider teaching them the Table Blessing, found in the Small Catechism. If they know the blessing, start returning thanks after each meal.
* Practice hospitality. Sundays feel more like the feasts they are during Lent than other times in the year. Ask people in your congregation over for Sunday dinner, especially people you don't get a chance to talk to very often. Ask neighbors over for dessert and coffee during the week. NB: "hospitable" does not mean "show off." Make meals that are easy to make and your family already likes. Your neighbors should know what your house looks like messy, anyway, because they should be dropping by any time. If they don't now, they will eventually :)
* Give generously to those in need, both in your church and in your community. I know everyone is struggling to make ends meet, but our family could not have financially survived the last 5 months without anonymous (extremely generous) help from our church family. Sometimes it's hard to be the reciprocate, not the giver, but we have definitely discovered how much more we would like to give to others, once my husband finds a job. Find out who is unemployed in your congregation. Visit shut-ins (some may see no one from their church but their pastor for months).
Other ideas? I'll be expanding on some of these suggestions as we approach Lent.