Yesterday, Fat Tuesday, or in the French language, Mardi Gras, commemorated the last day of revelry and celebration before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Most of us know that New Orleans is the center of this celebration, but there are other areas of the south, predominantly in Catholic areas, that also join in the “holiday”. Some people believe that the term Fat Tuesday came from the old world tradition of eating the “fatted calf” before the imposed time of fasting and self denial during the time leading up to Easter. In different areas, this time of celebration is manifested in a variety of ways – but most notably, by drinking, parties, dressing in costumes and parades. The festivities end promptly as midnight, in observance of the beginning of Ash Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.
Historically, people also ate special cakes, made of dairy products and eggs – things that had to be used up prior to the beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. After all, the period of Lent is a season of fasting and in the past, most foods, including all dairy products, had to be given up for the days preceding Easter. Traditionally, Lent was created to be 40 days, depending on how you count. Some cultures do not include Sundays and even Saturdays in the count – so the actual time can vary from region to region. The 40 days is significant as this period of time is often associated with the time that Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness, as well as many other well known events in the Bible.
But one thing is for sure – Lent is a time of self denial, sacrifice, fasting and remembrance of the time of Jesus leading up to Maunday Thursday (the celebration of the Last Supper), Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and then the celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus and His triumph over death and the grave.
So today, we start the season of remembrance. In some regions of the world, the period of fasting is much more severe than it is here. And in the Eastern Orthodox faith, giving up far more than a self selected item is the norm. No matter how you deal with these next 40 days, it is important to remember that we are in the time leading up to the most heinous and most triumphant events in the history of the church.
The verse for this evening is from the beginning of the New Testament and is meant to let us know how we should enter the period of fasting. In the past, the wearing of sackcloth and ashes symbolized people who were suffering and mourning. From Matthew 6:16-18, we are told, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
My encouragement this evening is that Jesus died for all of us and He sacrificed Himself because we weren’t capable of saving ourselves. The least we can do is to give up something as a remembrance of what He gave up for all of us. My prayer is that through these next 40 days, your faith will be made stronger and you will worship Him who gave up so much for us. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…