An essay for St. B’s quarterly bulletin, The Branch.
Growing up in an evangelical Presbyterian church I had never understood Lent until I was in college. I do not mean to suggest that my parents or the pastors did not know about Lent, but it was not something observed in our church and is largely ignored in Presbyterian communities. As I studied church history I began to get some sense of the season and its traditional disciplines, but then we moved to New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras. Wow.
In case you weren’t aware (I was not) Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday,” is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. To say that it is a big party is to lack an appreciation for adjectives. Massive, grotesque, gargantuan, hedonistic, Caligula-esque. Any of those might come close. Might. Bacchanalian is probably the most accurate. What began in medieval days as a tradition of eating all the sweet and luxurious foods in the house to prepare for the austerity of Lent has devolved into a festival of indulgence of all excesses imaginable. Most who partake have no conception that Mardi Gras is a part of the Christian season of Lent. In fact, most are not even conscious for Ash Wednesday, let alone aware of its existence.
Far from being an excuse to live to excess, Lent can be a remarkable time for healing and growth. Lent is the church season from Ash Wednesday to Easer Sunday, forty days not counting the Sundays which are considered feast days, and commemorates Jesus’s time in the wilderness when he fasted and was tempted by the devil (Matt. 3:16-4:2).
Matt. 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
God declares his love for his Son and then immediately sends him out “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Thanks Dad. While we are not Jesus and are not perfect as he was, his experience should encourage to faithfulness us as we journey through our own wasteland. Time and again the devil tempted him with everything from the tastiest morsels to fabulous power. Each time Jesus countered Satan with Scripture.
For millennia, Christians have followed the example of our Savior and set aside this period as a time of reflection and devotion, to develop the strength to resist any temptation. Thus many converts to Christianity set aside Lent as the time to prepare themselves for baptism, spending their time praying and studying Scripture before they are baptized at the Easter Vigil.
Lent should be a time of reflection, repentance, and restoration. We should not shun the wasteland experience, but neither should we enter into it lightly. Be encouraged: doubt leads to faith and temptation to discipline.
Matt. 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.