Throughout the centuries, Lent has provided opportunities for Christians to slow down and examine themselves as a way to prepare for observing the death of Jesus Christ. This aligns with the emphasis that Methodists have historically placed on intentional, purposeful Christian living. This invites the question: Do Methodists celebrate Lent?
Many Methodists observe Lent, although it is not required that they do. For Methodists, as with other Christians, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. A Methodist may give up eating meat or other pleasurable activities to enhance their focus and express their dependency on God.
Do Methodists give up meat for Lent? Do Methodists celebrate holy days such as Ash Wednesday or Good Friday? Continue reading to learn answers to these questions and others.
Do Methodists give up meat for Lent?
Some Methodists choose to give up meat for Lent. However, Methodists observe Lent in a variety of different ways. Fasting is just one of these options. The main purpose of Lent is to give up something pleasurable for a length of time, to focus one’s attention on God. There are different kinds of fasts for Lent:
- Lent draws its inspiration from Jesus’s 40-day fast in the wilderness. This particular fast is a total fast, during which a person eats no food and drinks only water.
- Another kind of fast is one that involves giving up one category of food. One common category is meat, but it could bread, desserts, or foods with refined sugar.
- Another sort of fast requires a person to only eat one meal a day, and then eat little to nothing for the remainder of the time.
However, some Methodists choose to give up things other than food. This can often prove to be just as difficult. Examples of things people could give up include not watching television, refraining from using social media, or not participating in a sport or other hobby or pastime. (Also see Why Do Methodists Say the Apostles Creed?)
All of these practices are valid expressions of Lent so long as they are done in a purposeful manner so as to self-reflect on the state of one’s soul or to direct one’s mind towards God. Because of this, many people, in addition to removing an earthly pleasure during Lent, also add in some sort of spiritual discipline such as prayer or the practice of good deeds to others. (Also see Are Methodists Allowed to Dance?)
Some Christians follow a Lenten calendar, which provides spiritual practices for a person to observe each day of Lent. Many find this helpful because it helps redirect a person’s focus away from missing whatever pleasure they are giving up and towards something positive and life-giving.
For Methodists, Lent lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays. The reason they do not count Sundays is because just as Lent looks forward to Holy Week and the resurrection of Jesus, so does each week look forward to the “mini-Easter” of each Sunday. In general, Lent is a way for Methodists, and Christians of other traditions to prepare themselves for Holy Week.  (Also see Do Methodists Pray the Rosary?)
Do Methodists participate in Ash Wednesday?
Methodists participate in Ash Wednesday, and have liturgical church services that center around it. However, this was not the case until the 20th century. In 1992, the United Methodist Church added an Ash Wednesday service to their Book of Worship. (Also see Do Methodists Drink Alcohol?)
Previously, the Methodists provided a liturgy for an “ashless” Ash Wednesday service. The current liturgy does not require ashes but offers it as an option. 
Ash Wednesday focuses on two important themes in the life of the church: individual sinfulness and human mortality. Scripture uses ashes in several places to represent these two themes.
- In Genesis, the Bible says that God made man from dust, and later, when God kicks Adam and Eve from the garden, he tells them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Hebrew which translators often render as “dust”, also can mean ashes. Thus, ashes are used in the Bible to represent human mortality.
- In many places throughout the Bible, people also use ashes during times of repentance. For instance, in Jonah 3:6, the king of Nineveh, when he recognizes the sinfulness of the city, clothes himself in sackcloth and sits in ashes. He hopes that by repenting God will spare the city of Nineveh from destruction.
Because of this biblical precedent, Christians, since at least the 10th century, have put ashes on their heads during Lent. In more recent times, some traditions, including Methodists, have started drawing crosses on their foreheads with the ashes. (Also see Do Methodists Believe in the Saints?)
Methodists believe that ashes are an accessory to sincere intention to repent of one’s sins and reflect one’s mortality as a human. They do not offer any sort of mystical power; instead, they provide a powerful and tangible way for Christians to express, and interact with, important spiritual truths.
Oftentimes, when Christian ministers draw the cross of ashes on a person’s forehead, they utter the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Alternatively, the minister might say: “Repent, and believe the gospel.”
On the Church Calendar, Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. For Methodists, Lent ends on Holy Saturday. (Also see Do Methodists Believe in Predestination?)
Do Methodists celebrate Good Friday?
Methodists celebrate Good Friday, following the guidelines set forth in their Book of Worship. There is much symbolism built into the service. Good Friday in Methodist churches often follow this pattern:
- When both congregants and church leaders walk into the church building, they remain silent.
- Before the service, Methodists remove everything that is joyful or pleasant such as decoration, flowers, and other things.
- The church leaders then shroud everything that is permanent or cannot be removed such as large crosses or pictures.
- When everyone has entered, the service begins with a greeting: “Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the tree. That we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Let us pray.”
- Typically, one of the main parts of the service is the reading of the passion narrative. Sometimes, this is done dramatically, with the different parts read by various people. The service ends with people exiting as they entered: silent. 
Whereas Methodist services typically include many redemptive or joyful readings or hymns, care is made to keep the service focused on the somber nature of Christ’s crucifixion. This creates a contrast with the triumphant nature of Easter Sunday. (Also see Can a Methodist Take Communion in a Baptist Church?)
It also serves as one final self-reflective space of time at the end of the observance of Lent. Just as people gave up pleasurable things during Lent, so did Christ give up glory in heaven for life on earth. (Also see Can Divorced People Marry In a Methodist Church?)
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