Lent

Dear Friends in Christ,

So how many of us really know what Mardi Gras is all about? When I look at news articles and pictures on-line, I get the feeling that most people would not understand that its roots are in the Christian church. But then again, I’m not really sure if I would be proud of that anyway. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” and it actually began as a celebration to mark the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day), which end on the day before Ash Wednesday.

Because people were entering the season of Lent, they would clean out their kitchens and cupboards of sweets, treats and meats and then on Fat Tuesday, people would celebrate a last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.

In my home town of Merrill, Wisconsin, the Holy Cross Sisters who are members of the Franciscan community, would put on a pancake feast for everyone marking the beginning of Lent. Again, I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but when you talk to folks who have and look at photos online, there isn’t much that makes you think about Jesus. So, this brings us to our next question and that is, “What exactly is Lent”? Lent began in the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century and it had a lot to do with preparing for the sacrament of baptism.

Traditionally, Lent lasts 40 days to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. It is a season of the church calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at Easter. This year Ash Wednesday is March 1st.

During Lent, Christians all over the world focus on simple living, prayer and fasting, pursing repentance and self-denial in efforts to grow closer to God. One human activity that people associate with Lent are the Friday fish fries that are very common in the Midwestern and northeastern regions of the United States, especially where the Roman Catholic Church had a large presence in the community.

When I was young, I remember my Catholic friends not being able to eat meat on Fridays. When I’d ask what they were able to eat, they would inform me that fish was okay. But did you know that this acknowledgement of Jesus’s crucifixion and death on Good Friday dates to the first century and that the first mention of fish in connection with Lent comes from Socrates of Constantinople in documents of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Again, a human tradition to honor a Christian belief that has become something that it wasn’t originally intended to be.

In recent years, many Christians have also started to add a spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar to their Lenten practices. For those who do not make it a habit to read God’s word, this would be a great time to start. I think there is value in acknowledging these traditions of the Christian church but I wonder if these spiritual practices should be limited to a particular season. I also think it is important to remember that when we try to develop more human practices, our efforts often turn into something that doesn’t do God justice.

As we recently learned in chapter 15 of our Believe series, we are called to “Total Surrender.” The Christian whose life is continually yielded to God in surrender, sacrifice, and service will be a living witness to their faith and to the world. Paul gives us some wonderful thoughts on all this, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

I pray that each of you has a truly blessed Lenten season and I pray that God’s Holy Spirit will lead you to a new level of worship, prayer and sacrifice that will draw you closer and closer to Him each and every day of your lives.

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Scott

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