Lent begins this week. Surprised, aren’t you? I am. The calendar creeps. Before we kick off the Lenten Reflections series on Wednesday, I wanted to share a little bit about what Lent is and why it’s important. So get out your paper and your pencils. It’s class time.
Lent is the forty days preceding Easter that mark a penitent and somber time on the Christian calendar. “But wait,” you say. “There are more than 40 days between now and Easter.”
And I say, “Correct, sir!”
Sundays don’t count in the calculus. Sundays, according to church tradition, are for celebrating the resurrection, so even during Lent, Sundays are to be normal, celebratory days. You can thank me for showing you that Sunday loophole, if you’re giving something up for Lent. You’re welcome.
But there are other days, too, that we Christians like to mark. They include Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Oh, and Easter, but you likely know about that.
For now, I’ll explain the first two, and during Holy Week, we’ll spend some time on the others, which occur then. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. Shrove comes from the word shrive, which means to confess; in other words, it is the day on which we prepare for a penitential season with confession. Many people know Shrove Tuesday as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or Carnival. These celebrations act as a sort of get-it-out-of -your-system gorging before the 40 day Lenten fast. Now, the cool thing is that Carnivale literally means to fast from meat, which is what many Christians do during Lent. See? Cool.
Ash Wednesday is the day we remember that from ash we came, and to ash we will return. We are mortal, we are fallen, and we cannot approach the throne without acknowledging this truth. And so we get a daub of ash on the forehead to remind us.
Finally, Lent. Now this is cool. It used to mean “spring,” but was replaced by a word that meant 40 days. And we fast from vices during this time, for forty days, to remember the 40 days Jesus spent being tested in the desert. While Catholics fast from met, or meat on Fridays, other denominations don’t fast at all. But there are also a fair number of people from every Christian flavor who decide independently to fast from something, or to take up something during the 40 days.
A word here about fasting. Fasting is a biblical discipline, but Lent is not mentioned anywhere in scripture. Usually, people choose to fast, or take a break from, something that interferes with their faith in some way. It can be anything from giving up an hour of sleep in morning to sweets or alcohol. People can fast rom the Internet, or TV, from certain relationships or habits. We do this to spend that time in prayer and to understand a teeny bit more about sacrifice. Choosing to fast is a serious commitment, but the is always, always, always room for grace. My feeling is that these things are private, but there are just as many people who don’t feel that way. I don’t think whether we talk about it is as important as the discipline itself.
So that’s the DL on Lent. People who mark the season do so for clarity, spirituality, focus. During Lent, we remember that Christmas is great and all, but without resurrection power, we’d have come to the end of the story a long time ago.
What do you think you want to learn or see or do during the next forty days? Do you traditionally mark the Lenten season?