Lent, which comes from an old English word meaning Spring, is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday.
Some people find a parallel with the story of Jesus’ temptation for 40 days after his baptism. It is also seen as a recapitulation of the 40 years of wilderness wanderings after Israel left Egypt in the Exodus before they entered the Promised Land.
Centuries ago, people fasted in Lent to prepare for the high point of the Christian Year, the marking of Holy Week and the celebration of Easter. Some Christians continue this practice today, although often people give up something small like coffee as a symbolic fast.
The Last Supper
Early Christians often used this period to prepare people to join the Church. They would be instructed and prepared spiritually for baptism on Holy Saturday after which they would participate in their first sharing of Holy Communion or Eucharist. During this time, they would be taught the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
Holy Week, the culmination of Lent, commences with ‘Palm’ (or ‘Passion’) Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he died. It includes the commemoration of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples at which he instituted the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper (commonly called Holy Communion in the Uniting Church). On this occasion, according to John’s gospel, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, a practice which is sometimes repeated during Holy Week worship.