Mennonite Church USA
Updated: Apr 28
Originally published at: https://www.mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/lenten-traditions/
A few weeks ago, I walked into a business office to sort out some financial transactions. Upon entering the office, the first consultant asked, “How can I help you?” Instead of giving my response, her forehead transfixed me. At first, I didn’t know what to make of what I was staring at on her forehead. The distraction of this dull black substance and the confusion set in by an internal conflict of whether I should point it out to her led to my stammering.
At this point, discerning the crisis within me, the lady, with a big smile and angelic voice quipped, “Oh, it is ash.” I exclaimed, “Ash Wednesday! Of course! Today is Wednesday.”
This encounter with this lady triggered a flood of nostalgia for my youthful days. Additionally, the Bible study at my church, Wholicare Community Missionary Church, a Mennonite church where I am the an associate pastor, began exploring what Lent meant to us individually. These two experiences have caused me to reminisce about my days in middle and high school in Nigeria, West Africa, reflecting on my family’s participation in and the measures of keeping Lent traditions.
The weeks leading up to Lent came with announcements and reminders from the reverend father at church and my mother in our home. I loved it as weeks of waiting turned into a week that included a grandiose ceremony of different kinds of dishes with assorted meat, poultry, cow meat, goat meat, etc. at home.
My family is Roman Catholic, and my parent’s Lent is a period of abstaining from much work; food, especially meat — only fish is allowed in our kitchen — fasting; and prayers.
The early Roman Catholic Church traditionally observed the Lenten season as a symbol of Jesus’s forty days of fasting before his ministry started and his walk to the cross. Matthew 4:1-2 (NKJV) says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.”
Some other fun traditions I observed as a teenager are what I titled the “road to the cross,” as well as having a limited period of abundance and variety of meat before Lent.
The memory of the excitement I felt while mingling with friends in the neighborhood every day, especially Friday, while observing the road to the cross, from day one to the last day of Lent, is still alive and imprinted in my heart.
The stations of the cross is part of the tradition we observed and practiced. There are 14 stations of the cross, which symbolize the way to the cross from Jesus’s arrest to the Calvary cross. At each station, the priest carrying the tall wooden cross would put it down, and someone would offer Scriptures and prayers until the last station.
As a Pentecostal adult, I have new Lenten traditions and practices. With my new understanding, my family approaches Lent as a season in which believers gain the opportunity for personal reflection, genuine brokenness in spirit and repentance, as well as removing ourselves from all noises around us and intentionally practicing solitude by living in prayers. Luke 5:16 (Amp) says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].”
Intentional alms giving, as an expression of our gratefulness to Jesus for taking our place, is another Lenten practice and tradition adopted by my family.
During Lent at my ministry, “In The Loving Arms Ministries,” which provides resources to those in areas affected by war, hunger, mass incarceration and other injustices, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading the Scriptures; we serve by going out of our comfort zone to make a positive impact in the lives of other people — “our neighbors.”
We encourage generosity in giving to people in need, both inside and outside of United States, with the understanding that God is answering their prayers through us. And in turn, God will replenish what we give. Luke 6:38 (NKJV) says, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Lent, to me, is not just a time for giving up something but also for giving back, by putting our beliefs and faith into action in the extravagant love of sharing.
Regional Minister, Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference
Associate Pastor, Wholicare Community Missionary Church