Depending on your denomination, you may or may not observe Lent in a formal, corporate way. But if you do, you’ve probably wondered how to safely observe Lent, which begins on February 17, 2021, while in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
If so, you’re not alone. Various groups have released special pandemic Ash Wednesday tips, to help parishes follow social distancing guidelines and still participate in the rite. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and people are traditionally marked with ash in the shape of a cross on their foreheads to represent personal and corporate repentance and facing our own mortality.
The good news is, ash is optional. Those who want to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent are still able to participate through online services, drive-thru ceremonies or by holding a small family service.
While it’s easy to get fixated on a tradition, the core principles of the practice are more on your heart posture and preparing for the 40 days of Lent, a time to take up spiritual disciplines and prepare for Easter.
Lent is a sombre time in the Christian liturgical calendar and offers an intentional time for believers to reflect on their sins and shortcomings and come to grips with how much we all need a Saviour. It’s a precious time to slow down and practice sacrificial faith while focusing on what Christ did for us on the cross.
With so many areas still in varying degrees of lockdown and corporate services not possible in some locations, here are some suggestions for observing Lent while in a pandemic.
Read through the Gospels
If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you’re likely familiar with the four books that make up the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four accounts outline the life and work of Jesus Christ while He was on earth and take very different approaches to telling this great story. While each book has a different emphasis and target reader, they all follow the same story arc at the literal turning point in history, when the Son of God sacrificed His life on the cross to save us from our sins.
Read a Lenten Devotional
During Lent, it’s helpful to focus your devotional readings on themes that focus on Easter, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and ways we can honour Jesus by caring for others.
Do 40 Days of SOMETHING
A nice way to observe Lent is to commit to doing something for 40 days straight, in honour of the season. This could be 40 days of praying for something specific, 40 days of avoiding unnecessary purchases, 40 days of volunteering, 40 days of sending encouraging notes, etc.
Fast from Food
Fasting from food is a common Lenten practice and although this could be seen as a fad diet, the purpose of this type of fasting is very different. The idea is to fix your eye on the One who gives you food, instead of the food itself. Fasting allows us to become hungry for God and creates space for Him in our busy lives. And this doesn’t need to be a complete fast, many people will abstain from meat or sugar for Lent, or even certain meals or certain days.
Millions of people observe Lent around the world each year, as a sign of sacrifice and self-discipline. If you’re curious about what to give up for Lent, we found this handy flowchart made by Insight For Living Canada quite helpful.
Lent ends with the Holy Week, or Passion Week, which then leads to Easter. This marks Jesus’ resurrection and ultimate defeat of death, a most important day indeed.