What is lent? As a kid, when I heard “lent” I’d think about the stuff in my belly button. Lint is different, but indulge me if you will. I write this to you on Tuesday/Martes/Mardi, February 21. Our Spanish-speaking neighbors might call this Martes Gordo. Our French-speaking neighbors might call this Mardi Gras. Some of us [English speakers] call it Fat Tuesday, some refer to it as Pancake Day, still others call it Shrove Tuesday. Before we go too far, I do not intend to spend much time discussing the debaucherous, drunken orgy made infamous in several cities along the Gulf of Mexico, though thinking about it might be helpful as an exaggerated idea of a medieval theological concept.
Let’s recall from articles past, that up until beginning of the protestant reformations in Europe, illiterate Christians (nearly everyone was illiterate) were dependent upon priests to understand anything about God’s Word. They had several methods of remembering biblical concepts, including memorized liturgies, catechism, and … patterns of feasting and fasting! This included days and seasons. Advent was generally a season of fasting to prepare for Christmas, peppered with days of feasting and celebration. Christmastide (the 12 days) was generally a season of feasting, with a couple of fast days sprinkled in. Fasting, reflection, lamentation of sin, commemoration, contemplation is a biblical concept. Feasting, giving thanks, rejoicing, celebration, praise is a biblical concept too.
Some folks consider Mardi Gras to be a season of celebration, beginning after January 6 (Epiphany), culminating in Mardi Gras (the day). This day was supposed to have a two-fold concept: celebration and confession. Fat Tuesday is thought to be a blow-out day of indulgence, a last “hoorah” if you will. I love that some call it Pancake Day; if leaning in to sweets and drinking a cup of syrup (hopefully with a side of bacon) is your version of “cutting loose” then I am particularly unconcerned with you as a “wild child”. The other idea of this day is reflected by “Shrove Tuesday” (if you don’t know what this means, it might be wise to avoid using this title). To “shrive” (verb) is to hear a confession of sin (think: a priest in a box), instruct the confessor to “do penance” (I just realized I need to write an article on this concept one day), and grant absolution to the one confessing their sin. Someone can “be shriven”, and the past tense of this verb is ”shrove” (as in: the priest “shrove” me on Tuesday).
For many, tomorrow will be “Ash Wednesday”. It is the kick-off of the liturgical season known as “lent”. Many of our Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican – and by extension Wesleyan/Methodist – brethren will have ash smudged upon their foreheads in the form of a cross. Though this might seem alien to many of us raised in Baptist churches, it is a beautiful theological concept. The one dipping their finger into the ashes usually says something like “remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of the fragility of life is a humbling thought. The fact that we are insignificant, and unworthy of God’s grace is yet more humbling. Aren’t you glad that despite this fact, God lavishes His grace upon us anyway? It is pondering this undeservedness of Jesus’ death upon the cross that should drive the “lenten season” of fasting. Not only, is the ideal to give up food on certain days, but to also set aside other luxuries (perhaps syrup, or sugar altogether) for the entire 40 days leading up to the Easter season. In doing so, the thought is to supplement extra time in prayer and meditation of scripture. This – in theory – should help prepare our hearts as we approach Easter. In reflecting upon the cost of our sin, lamenting it, repenting of it, and thanking God for His mercy, we practice stillness, and allow Him to reveal Himself in fresh ways.
Because we now can read the bible personally, and just about everyone can afford to own a copy, we no longer need the seasons of feasting and fasting like the medieval Church did. Going through a particular ceremony, strictly because it’s something to do every year, is especially unhelpful to me. I kindly refuse to pick an arbitrary thing to “give up”, because it’s probably something I should do less of all the year long. However, the concept of reading God’s Word more, and spending a few extra moments in prayer each day are good for me to consider. The notion of lamentation, preparation, and expectation are good for my soul. However you choose to observe lent, or not observe lent, ask yourself: are there any ways I can deepen and strengthen my walk with Jesus during this season of life?
Just a closer walk with Thee,
grant it – Jesus – it’s my plea!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds