Well, here we are. It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating Christmas and then the twelve days of Christmas that I wrote about in early January. Then, Epiphany, the celebration and remembrance of the arrival of the wise men to visit Jesus in Bethlehem occurred on January 6th. And I should note that in some denominations, particularly more eastern cultures, Epiphany can also mark the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.
Candlemas, the 40th day after Christmas, occurred on February 2nd and this day is commemorated by Christians as the day that Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus at the Temple, 40 days after His birth. According to the Jewish Law, the mother was “unclean” for seven days following the birth of a baby boy and then stayed at home another 33 days – 40 days in total – before the presentation of the baby at the Temple. Jesus was officially presented to the Lord on this day. In fact, many Christians leave their Christmas decorations up during this 40 day period if they haven’t taken them down by the Twelfth Night (after Christmas), the evening before Epiphany on January 6th.
Following the Advent season, the liturgical calendar enters into a period of what is referred to as “Ordinary Time” until the beginning of Lent. This doesn’t mean that the time is unremarkable, but rather that it is part of “ordinal” time – that is, counting weeks between specific seasons of the liturgical calendar. Depending on when Easter falls, the timing of this season varies from year to year, but that is the “season” of the church calendar that we have completed this week as we enter the season of Lent. In some areas of the country, this period is also referred to as the Carnival season – in deference to the parties that usher in the days before the beginning of Lent. During this post Epiphany season, there are certain events remembered on the various Sundays. For example, the first Sunday after Epiphany celebrates the Lord’s baptism; and the last Sunday before Lent commemorates the Transfiguration of Jesus.
We then enter the pre-Lent period (that would be last week-end) when Christians begin to contemplate what sacrifices they will make during this time of remembrance and sacrifice before Easter. These several days are marked as a time of preparation and reflection and culminate on Shrove Tuesday, better known to us as Mardi Gras! Yes, Mardi Gras, most famously celebrated in New Orleans each year, marks the last celebration before the penitential season that follows. Interestingly, the first Mardi Gras celebration really happened in Mobile, AL years before New Orleans began the parades and costumes. Shrove Tuesday is also celebrated in some denominations by eating pancakes and marks a feast day before Ash Wednesday – the official beginning of Lent. Some people even mark the occasion by having a syrup “cross” placed on their foreheads. By the way, “shrove” comes from the ancient word “shrive” and means to absolve – as we look forward to Easter and the resurrection of Jesus – His victory of death – and His death for the sins of all of us.
As most of us know, Mardi Gras is a grand time that many people tend to celebrate more than we contemplate the upcoming time of sacrifice. In fact, I was an adult before I really understood that Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras, all names for the same day, had anything to do with the liturgical seasons.
Lent is the 40 day period of time that leads up to Easter. Incidentally, there are actually more than 40 physical days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. But that’s because Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted toward the total. Sundays are usually days that we celebrate Jesus and, therefore, they are not days of mourning but days of joy. As we have already discussed, Lent is a period of reflection and sacrifice so days of joy (Sundays) are not part of the 40 day period, at least some of which is usually spent by fasting.
There are many verses that speak to times of reflection and humility during this season. It seems to me that it would be good to concentrate on waiting for the Lord and how our hope is in Him. Therefore, our verse for tonight is from Micah 7:7, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”
During this liturgical season of sacrifice and waiting, my encouragement is that we should be focusing on the good news that comes at Easter. After all, there are many times in the Bible when 40 days signify the completion of something – and Easter is the most important day of the year in the Christian calendar. My prayer is that during this Lenten period, we will dedicate ourselves to times of reflection, self sacrifice and humility; and to the eventual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…