A season of getting things right with God
Over the centuries Since Christ was here a variety of practices developed and that is the nature of Lent, Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras (Carnival). There are varieties on the theme, but basically the high holy time in the Christian calendar is the day of resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The days leading up to this holy day began to take on significance and it was thought good to prepare the hearts of Jesus’ followers for such a time.
How would they prepare? They would focus more on a right relationship with God through prayer. They would focus less on the things of this life and fast or give up certain things they enjoyed. They would get right with the ways of God and repent of their sins and then do things to prove their seriousness in repentance.
How long would they do this? The Gospels tell of Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert, and the number stuck. Counting backward from the Sunday of the Resurrection (Easter) forty days of fasting you get to…umm not quite. Some traditions include 6 Sundays. Sundays are non-fast days and are not included in the forty. So, forty plus 6 Sundays we get 46 days before Easter. Which places us on the calendar on a Wednesday.
This year that Wednesday is February 18. It has the name Ash Wednesday because of a practice among some Christians of placing a cross made of ashes on the forehead. The ashes are from the remains of palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. They are blessed and used to denote one is entering into the season of getting things right with God. The person is to repent, confess and get things right on Wednesday and be marked by the cross made of ashes on the forehead to begin the journey to the cross and beyond to the resurrection. It may be something like the “I Voted” stickers one receives after voting in an election. It identifies you as one who participated in the system.
What happens before the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday? Tuesday is the final day of Mardi Gras (Carnival, Fat Tuesday). Fat Tuesday is the last big juicy meal before the fasting starts Wednesday. It has become a huge party in New Orleans and in Rio, but in times past it was a celebration for good to come not a celebration of the flesh to run amok. The whole period of Carnival celebrations ran from Epiphany (Celebrated January 6), the twelfth day of Christmas which is when the Wise Men came to see Jesus the King to Mardi Gras the day before Lent begins. A special cake has been part of that festivity called the King Cake. Inside this cake is a bean or a plastic baby representing the baby Jesus. The one who has the King in their slice of cake is blessed and in some traditions is responsible for the cake the following year. OK, did you get all that?
Feel free to enjoy such celebrations. Joyous feasting and somber fasts have a place in our interactions with our God and others. You can choose the time and place or go with traditions developed by others. Getting closer to God, however, is 24/7. Being real with God and dealing with any distancing from Him, sins or failures are things to be dealt with on the spot and at the time not collected for a special time of year. These kinds of traditions can remind us to get closer to God if we have wandered. Even a Mardi Gras party can be enjoyed without going to excess or into sin in order to receive grace the next day. God invented fun. His kind of fun comes with joy in the morning and not hangovers or negative consequences. Happy Mardi Gras, and keep getting closer to God.