Wednesday, February 26, 2020 marks the first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday. For the next forty days (excluding Sundays) the people of God are called to self-denial and discipline, a solemn preparation for Easter. In the Early Church, Lent was a time of preparation for the Easter baptism of converts to the faith. Persons who were to receive the sacrament of baptism – “new birth,” “death to sin” – were expected to fast and prepare during these weeks. Candidates for baptism (catechumens) were led through the stories of the Bible that helped them examine the nature of the life they were about to enter. Through experience of fasting, self-denial, and acknowledgment of their need to repent and turn to God, they began to live out Paul’s vision of offering oneself to God:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Ash Wednesday is a time of confession that carries a spirit of sorrow and contrition over sins that permeates the Lenten season. For this reason, the word alleluia is omitted from all liturgies during Lent and restored again during the celebration of Easter.
If your church or family plans on participating in a Mardi Gras (the Carnival – “Carnem, vale” = farewell to meat) celebration in the tradition of Venice, New Orleans, or Rio de Janeiro or a Shrove Tuesday (shriven from sins) with the eating of pancakes (to remove all the butter, milk, eggs, and fat from the pantry), consider creating an Alleluia Banner and then ceremoniously burying it. This can be done the Sunday before Ash Wednesday also.
Alleluia Poster or Banner
Decorate a community or family Alleluia Poster. If you choose to use fabric or felt instead, a banner could be made following the same directions. When completed, put it on display before you use it in the Farewell to Alleluia Service.
Materials: 28′ x 40′ poster board; scissors; assorted papers: tissue, construction, colored foil, etc.; glue; felt pens; assorted decorations: dried flowers, sequins, glitter, ribbons, yarn, pom-poms, feathers, etc.
- Write or cut out letters for the word ALLELUIA, one participant per letter. Center the word on the poster.
- Letters can be cut from paper and glued to the poster board, outlined in felt pen, and filled with a glued collage material such as sequins,
- Other participants can create a decorative border around the edge of the poster board with flowers, glitter, ribbons, etc.
Farewell to Alleluia Service
This service includes a procession; invite one participant to cary the Alleluia Poster (or banner) in the procession. Invite others to carry noisemakers. Select two readers. In advance, determine where your Alleluia Poster will be “buried” until Easter (a closet, side-chapel, sacristy, or if weather permits in your local – dig an actual hole in the ground and bury it). Get a cloth (or plastic trash bag) to cover and protect the poster. Don’t forget to mark where it has been placed or buried and remember to dig it up on Easter!
To begin the service, gather around the Alleluia Poster. Form a procession to carry it to its resting place for Lent. While processing, encouraged the use of noisemaker and cries of “Alleluia!” When you reach the resting place, proceed with the service:
Leader: O God, make speed to save us, alleluia, alleluia.
All: O Lord, make haste to help us, alleluia, alleluia.
Hymn: “Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks to the Risen Lord (#178 The Hymnal 1982)
Reading: Revelation 19:1, 4-6
Procession to Resting Place
Reading: Psalm 137:1-6
Farewell to the Alleluia (silently put away the Alleluia Poster by veiling it or burying it)
Leader: Let us pray.
All: The Lord’s Prayer
Leader: God you teach us to sing in praise. You teach us to pray in silence. Help us who prepare for the season of Lent to come with joy to the celebration of Easter, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This post was adapted from Faithful Celebrations: Making Time for God from Mardi Gras through Pentecost edited by Sharon Ely Pearson (Church Publishing, 2017). Other actives for Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras within the book include recipes, games, Bible study activities, and crafts.
For more ideas for Lent, see: More Links for Lent and Preparing for Lent.