Everyone knows what Mardi Gras is. Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) always occurs on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice in the Catholic church of receiving a cross-shaped smudge of ash on the forehead at a special mass on Wednesday at the beginning of Lent. Ideally, the ashes are made from the burned palm fronds from Palm Sunday of the previous year. This begins the season of Lent which ends with the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent is to be a time of prayer, meditation, repentance, and discipline such as fasting. It is a time to thoughtfully consider the work of Christ on the Cross followed by the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter.
So, why is there Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday? How could the excesses of Mardi Gras in New Orleans ever be associated with such a holy season as Lent? For the same reason that Halloween (All Hallows Eve) on the night before All Saints Day (November 1) became such a rowdy time (there is a dark history to “Trick or Treat”), Mardi Gras became a day of excess at every level before the long season of self-denial found in Lent. There is some virtue found in focusing on Christ and the Cross and the Resurrection for a season. But why just observe this for a season? Would there not be even greater blessing found in making the focus of Lent the pattern of our life in Christ throughout the year? At some point, should we not break this cycle of excess and denial and walk the walk of a disciple as the constant pattern of our life?
In Mark 8:34, Jesus laid down His calling for every disciple. If you are going to follow me, He said, you must (this is not a suggestion)deny yourself and take up your cross. Many fair-weather disciples left Him that day. How about you and me?
I want to challenge you, on this Ash Wednesday, to commit to daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation from now until Easter Sunday. This can take whatever form you are led to choose, but commit to practice this discipline from now to then. On Easter Sunday, I am going to ask you to consider commiting to continue that discipline until next Ash Wednesday. On that day, you can decide whether you have been blessed and whether you will continue in some form. Let it become the habit of your life as a disciple of Christ. Jesus did not call us to follow Him for a season. He called us to follow Him for an eternity!
Finally, pray that the weather will be such that we can worship together on Easter this spring, sunrise service, breakfast, and all! What a blessing that would be!