Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, and–Why, Exactly?

The Chapel (where I pastor) has historically been a church that does not join in with the Christian calendar. There is certainly no rule requiring it (and, in fact, there are semi-reasonable arguments not to in certain instances). However, these things are all linked; and being in South Louisiana (as just about all readers of this blog are), it is helpful to know how they are linked.

So what is this all about? (Note, you can Google most of this stuff, or watch Chuck above, so here’s just a BRIEF run-down.)

Easter. This all works toward Easter and the celebration of the resurrected Savior. (However, almost all “Don’t give me the Christian calendar” haters will still celebrate Easter, which. . .well, never mind.) But these days are all building toward Resurrection Sunday (which for those of us in the West, is April 20th this year).

  • Lent–Remove Sundays from the equation, and Lent is a 40-day period of fasting that leads up to Easter. Why fast? Because Jesus did before his ministry (Luke 4:1-2). (But, let’s be honest, nobody fasts like Jesus did.) Why 40? Because throughout the Bible we see that the number 40 represents an amount of time (days, weeks, years) in which people are prepared for unique times (the flood for 40 days, 40 years in the wilderness, Moses’ 40 days with God, Jesus’ 40 day fast, Jesus’ 40 days with the disciples post-resurrection). People give up all types of things during this time.
  • Ash Wednesday–This day begins the Lenten season. It’s the first of the 40 days. Why ashes? Because a dominant OT image of fasting included ashes. Why not sackcloth? Beats me. This begins the period of fasting and repentance.
  • Shrove Tuesday–Shrove Tuesday is supposed to be a time of reflection and meditation about our lives–and potential areas of repentance–as we prepare for Lent. Then, because we humans (specifically in Louisiana) like to do things like this, we turn it into a time of incredible self-indulgence, sin, and doing all the stuff we want to do because we won’t be doing it for 40 days (thus the term “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday”). Fat Tuesday is the flip side of Shrove Tuesday. We over-indulge right before the time of restriction. And, as you see, it takes on a life of its own and is fairly unrelated to Easter culturally. (And, here at the Oaks, we ate a lot of king cake.)

Paul warns the Colossians to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col 2:16). However, this is not saying “don’t participate in festivals and things like this” but rather “don’t find your value, your joy, or your salvation in things other than Jesus.”

Personally, I’m grateful for the calendar, and I’m grateful for the season. I believe that taking time to remove temptations from your life is a good thing (Lent). I believe repentance should always exist in the life of a Christian (Ash Wednesday). I believe that considering where you aren’t walking with Jesus is helpful for anyone (Shrove Tuesday). And I most definitely think that worshipping a resurrected savior is the most important thing you can do with your life (Easter).

Regardless of your participation in the season we are in, my questions are:

  • How are you regularly examining your relationship with Jesus?
  • Are you repenting regularly of sin personally and also with your church family?
  • How are you constantly preparing yourself for the return of your Savior?

Happy Ash Wednesday!


3 Replies to “Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, and–Why, Exactly?”

  1. First, New Orleans is so Catholic that at this time of year even the Baptist are Catholic.

    Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday and followed by Holy Week. Although none of these dates actually line up historically, what can be wrong with a fast to the Lord? The sad part of Ash Wednesday, Genesis 3:18-19, is that the church is commemorating man’s fall from spiritual LIFE and his conviction as a mortal, condemned sinner. Roman Catholics are not taught that the repentant believer has become a son of God (John 1:12-13) or that he has received eternal life through Jesus Christ–and he never feels forgiven, secure in Christ.

    Although we celebrate Easter as Resurrection Sunday, Passover proceeds Unleavened bread and is followed by Easter (the pagan holiday after which Herod intended to execute Peter (Acts 12:1-4)). And so, the laity (and pastorate) remain always and perpetually confused.

    Fat Tuesday is an abomination to the Lord no matter how whitewashed (1Cor 11; Gal 5).

    Hans, sorry for

    1. John, your comment got cut off at the end so I’m not sure what else you were saying; but I appreciate the comments and your candidness. Many protestant denominations do celebrate Ash Wednesday and also affirm the security of the believer; so it isn’t just a Roman Catholic observance, though in South Louisiana we can certainly understand why it is predominantly that way.

      Thanks again!

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