As many of you may know, we are in the midst of the season of Lent. Lent historically begins 40 days before Easter on what is known as Ash Wednesday. Some of you may have participated at some point in Ash Wednesday. You go to a special service at church, walk forward to the Priest and the Priest says to you, “You are from the dust of the earth and to the dust of the earth you will return.” The Priest then takes some ashes (burned Palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday) mixed with olive oil and paints a cross on your forehead. In high school we could always tell the Catholic kids because they would have ashes smeared on them. I never knew what it meant but I remember thinking it was weird.
During Lent, Catholics and other High Church religions, make a commitment to give something up for a short season. It’s a reminder that everything good comes from God. It’s a reminder that we are dust and that all of the stuff that we collect here on this earth will one day return to dust. It’s also a reminder to care more deeply for those who don’t have as much stuff as we enjoy. There is a lot of good to be found in this Lent tradition.
Now, since people are going to be giving something up for Lent, it only makes sense that the day before Lent begins would become a big party. So the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became known as Shrove Tuesday or, more commonly, Fat Tuesday. And on Fat Tuesday people tend to overindulge in pleasurable experiences. There’s actually a national drinking establishment known as Fat Tuesday.
And because we love our excess, some people decided that one night of indulgence wasn’t enough, that several days of celebration are needed to prepare for the sacrifice of Lent. So the weekend before Lent begins became what we know today as Mardi Gras. A time of great indulgence. Mardi Gras or Carnival. And Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, which literally means “without meat.” It was common practice for those celebrating Lent to go without meat, at least on Fridays, for the 40 days preceding Easter. Still today you will see signs for fish fries outside of many restaurants and churches on Fridays during Lent.
1 John 5:21 says, “Keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your heart.” And that’s what the season of Lent is really all about. Is there anything in my life that I have allowed to take God’s place in my heart? The stuff we might choose to give up during Lent is simply a reminder for us to ask the question: Is there anything in my life that I have allowed to take God’s place in my heart?
So in the weeks to come, during the remainder of the Lent season, as we prepare for Easter, I’m going to participate in this Lent tradition. Why don’t you join me? Let’s give up some kind of personal pleasure so that we can be reminded to focus on our dependence on God.
Maybe give up coffee for the week? Or desserts? Smoking? Alcohol? Meat? Chocolate? TV? Keep your ipod in a drawer . . . turned off? Hot showers (make sure you continue to bathe, but no hot water)? Maybe you give up shopping?
I’m personally going to give up cauliflower and prune juice. No! If you’re a vegetarian, don’t commit to giving up meat for the week. Choose something that will have an impact in your life.
In all seriousness, I’m going to give up two things this week. The first is coffee. I drink a lot of coffee every day and so this is going to be a strong reminder for me about my dependence on God. I’m also going to give up hot showers. I love to take long hot showers, so I’m not looking forward to this. But taking cold showers will remind me of all that God provides for me and also of the needs of others to whom I need to be a blessing.
This is a one week commitment and then we’ll try giving something else up the following week.
Would love to hear if you’re joining me and what exactly you’re giving up!