Lent is a period of forty days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter, recalling Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). Sundays are designated as the First Sunday in Lent, Second Sunday, and so on.
The significance of this time in the church's life is stated clearly and well in "Inivtation to the Observance of Lenten Discipline" in the Ash Wednesday liturgy (The United Methodist Book of Worship, #322).
"Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: The early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration there should be a forty-day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God Holy Word."
[This text is in the public domain and comes from the Book of Common Prayer.]
The color of Lent is purple.
Lenten Studies at FUMC - McCamey:
Religions of the World (2010)
UMC 101 (2011)
Links you can use for Lent