During Lent, we fast from many things liturgically: there is no Gloria or Alleluia during Mass, and the worship space is empty of flowers. The music is simpler too. Gone is the joyful praise that we engage in most other times of the year. These absences are a backdrop that reveals the growing intensity of the narrative of Jesus, who is entering the final stages of his earthly ministry. Lent is a serious time of preparation for the experience of the Paschal Mystery.
How can we help young people experience Lent in a way that connects them to Jesus? Here are five ideas.
1. Go with Jesus into the desert.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday and for the next 40 days, we imitate Jesus, who himself spent 40 days in the desert. Bring the desert physically into the classroom by placing a small diorama with sand, succulents, or cacti in the prayer space. You can make the diorama by filling a wide, flat bowl or box with sand or unscented cat litter. Include a pathway made of small stones that leads to a cross. Alternately, create a slide show of desert landscapes as a background for prayer.
2. Let Jesus show how to overcome temptation.
The First Sunday of Lent presents Jesus’ temptation in the desert. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit the concept of sin and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Use the story of the temptation to remind students that they too will be presented with choices and that, like Jesus, they can look to Scripture for guidance. Review the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36–40).
3. Let Jesus reveal who he is.
On the Second Sunday of Lent, we hear about the Transfiguration, where Jesus reveals his future glory—and real self—to his disciples. This would be a great opportunity to do a guided meditation with older children, having them imagine they are with the disciples and how they would react. Have children draw the scene or write their feelings in a journal.
4. Encounter Jesus in story.
On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, we follow Jesus as he encounters various people, helping them discover who he really is, healing them, even raising them from the dead. All the while, he is a teacher, teaching about himself and the Father. The three Gospel readings from these Sundays in Cycle A—the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus—are wonderful opportunities for creative role-playing, making or meditating on artwork, and lectio divina.
5. Follow Jesus to the Cross.
Don’t neglect the Stations of the Cross. Lead students toward Holy Week and help them anticipate the Passion—and the Resurrection. How we lead and accompany them through Lent will be important to how well they experience the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.