This week the world will be partying it up for Mardi Gras before they sober up on Ash Wednesday and enter the Lenten season. I grew up in a branch of Christianity that does not teach or engage in the practice of Lent, but of course I’ve heard bits and pieces about it all my life. I know many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who observe Lent, and I have always admired the devotion of those who engage in this holy holiday sincerely. So I went on a quest this week, reading and talking about Lent, searching my Bible, and praying about a way that I can grow in my faith through this 40-day journey.
So, what’s up with Lent?
Lent is the 40-day period leading up to the celebration of Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is 40 days long to symbolically mirror the 40-day period Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his public ministry. 40 is a recurring theme throughout the Bible, and it always represents a period of preparation for change. During the great flood it rained for 40 days and nights. Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai getting the laws from God, and the Israelites roamed the desert for 40 years before God gave them the Promised Land. Saul, David, and Solomon each ruled Israel for 40 years. Jesus fasted 40 days in preparation for his ministry, but he also spent 40 days after his resurrection preparing his Disciples before the ascended into heaven. It is beautiful to realize that a pregnancy, a familiar time of preparation for great change, is 40 weeks.
All most of us “outsiders” know about Lent is giving up something bad, like pop or alcohol (usually grudgingly…), and we’ve heard a lot about eating fish on Fridays. Abstaining from meat one day a week is a corporate fasting practice that binds people together in their common sacrifice. Meat is considered one of the pleasures of life, but fish is allowed as an exception because in the early church, a simple drawing of a fish (you’ve seen them on car bumpers…) was a sign to other believers in a time when Christians were forbidden to practice their faith. Additionally, many of the Apostles were fishermen by trade, and Jesus cooked them a fish dinner after his resurrection. On a goofy side note, I learned that McDonalds invented their Fillet-o-Fish sandwich in response to down hamburger sales during Lent. Vatican II made it allowable to substitute some other sacrifice or good deed for abstaining from meat on Fridays, so it’s not as practiced as it once was, but they still run specials on the Fillet-o-Fish…
I think the point of Lent is to examine your heart and root out areas where you are spoiled by excess. It could be what you consume, or how you spend your time. Examine yourself this week and think about what you might do to prepare your heart, learn greater discipline, and grow in your faith and as a person during this Lenten season. I haven’t decided exactly what my personal plan is, but I think this year I’ll give Lent a try.
Tuesday, Feb 9 – Mardi Gras (not a religious holiday, but the last day of gluttony and excess before cracking down during Lent)
Wednesday, Feb 10 – Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Catholics begin Lent by attending church to ask for forgiveness for sins. As a symbol of their grief over their sins, ashes are put on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Just yesterday I learned that those ashes come from the palm leaves from Palm Sunday the year before – celebration turned to mourning, which reminds me that the inverse is true as well. In Isaiah we read that God gives us beauty for ashes.
Sunday, March 19 – Palm Sunday, the celebration of Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem a week before the crucifixion.
Friday, March 25 – Good Friday, a somber commemoration of the day Christ was crucified to pay the price for our sins.
Sunday, March 27 – Easter Sunday, commemorating the day that Christ rose from the dead, victorious over death.
Does your family have any Lenten traditions? What are you adding or giving up this year to commemorate Christ’s sacrifice and prepare your heart for Easter? Leave a comment!