NORMAN — Very soon people will celebrate a season of Carnival, culminating in Mardi Gras, from the French meaning Fat Tuesday, on Feb. 12. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Fat Tuesday refers to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13. The day also is referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning confess.
Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. The Lenten season falls on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter.
According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning of His public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day (excluding Sundays) liturgical period of prayer and fasting.
Lent has evolved over the years into a time of self-denial of some ordinary habit, such as giving up chocolate or soda.
The original meaning of Lent was “Holy Spring,” Traditionally, Christians prepared themselves for the observance of Christ’s Resurrection. Believers fasted and prayed, seeking God’s guidance regarding those places in their hearts, minds and lives where they fell short of being the image of Christ to the world around them. Their desire was to demonstrate authentic Christianity — to live like Jesus, look like Jesus and love like Jesus. New believers were asked to prepare for the observance of Baptism — a public identification of being authentic, personal followers of and believers in Christ.
Lent, in this original context, becomes a time for a spiritual “spring cleaning,” Lent is a time for new beginnings. As a caterpillar undergoes transforming into a butterfly, we too must transform by God’s power at work in us into a new creation. New beginnings start by leaving the old behind. In our faith journey, this is the truest meaning of repentance. Repentance need not be a negative or shaming thing — a turning from sin — as much as it also is a positive transformation of turning TO something as well.
Joel 2:12-14a says, “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing …”
We can get stuck in the whole “give something up for Lent” or we can give ourselves up to God as a vessel for His glorious purposes. Ultimately this season of Lent can become a turning away from the powers of death — we’ve been set free in Christ. More importantly, Lent can become a transformation leading to a brighter and clearer view of our Lord God and His Christ.