Today is ash Wednesday, a name that could refer to the color of the sky outside my window, but actually refers to the start of Lent for many Christians who follow the traditional, liturgical church calendar. All across the country today Christians will go to worship, take the bread and the cup, and receive a small dot of ash on their forehead as they do so. They do this to commemorate the death of Christ, to mark a season of their lives that will be reserved for self-denial and meditation on what the death of Christ has done for them. *1* For these Christians this time lasts a full forty days, though some take a small break in March for a bit of national revelry. *2* However it’s practiced in its various forms, it’s meant to culminate on the Holy Weekend, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, celebrating the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, his victory over sin and death, the grave and hell itself.
My particular tradition does not celebrate Lent, not in any institutional way at least. Presbyterianism still has its roots in the heart of the reformation, to men like John Calvin and John Owen and many other puritans, men who did not celebrate much of a church calendar at all beyond the weekly Sabbath. *3* At the time of the Reformation, the church calendar was littered with needless holidays celebrating any number of unbiblical practices, and I believe the reformers took no small delight in using their erasers/ scissors to rid their years of these types of holidays. Lent was probably an unfortunate bystander in this process, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, still tasting too much of papery for many Protestants to swallow. I do think it’s worth pointing out, that for many of the puritans, Lent would have been a cakewalk compared to the sort of lives they led on a week to week basis. 40 days of self-denial, even on a yearly basis, doesn’t really hold a candle to the life of piety many of those men led. Which isn’t to throw stones at those who practice Lent, but rather to remind those who don’t that ours isn’t a heritage that eschews self-denial, but rather just the calendar.
I have a friend who celebrates Lent with a fairly stringent set of dietary restrictions every year. No meat or animal products of any kind, no sugar, no booze, and probably no something else that I’ve neglected to mention. It wouldn’t bother me at all, except that this is my “food” buddy, and so when he’s on the lam, (or off the lamb so to speak) *4* then I have no one to eat funky things with. Donnette isn’t exactly a squeamish eater, but when what you eat feeds someone else, you have to be careful, and so with Nik down, I’m eating by myself. even still, the fact that Nik does this every year, despite my annual protestations, is impressive, and a testament to the power of individual conscience in the Christian life.
I don’t really know if the French practice Lent or not. It is a Catholic country, but from what I gather only about 6-8% of the French attend Mass regularly, and depending on who you’re talking to, regularly can be as little as once a year. Not to mention the fact that France isn’t exactly a country known to hold up piety and abstinence as particular virtues. I think it’ll be interesting to see, if they give up things the way we do here, no chocolate, no wine, no meat, etc, or if, as I suspect, this sort of thinking is anathema to them.
As for me this year, I will not be observing Lent in any particular form. There have been years in the past when Donnette and I have felt motivated to abstain from certain things (beer and wine mostly) during this time, but not this year. I can honestly say that with all we have going on in our lives right now, from work to support raising to making sure the kids are bathed and fed every day *5* that particular acts of piety are not necessary to keep us focused on Christ and what this season means for us as Christians. If it weren’t for Christ giving us strength, I wouldn’t be able to finish typing this sentence, and that’s not hyperbole, just the honest truth.
We are thankful for all your prayers, and for the many people who’ve been meeting with us over the last few weeks. It has meant so much.
*1* I’m well aware that this is not why everyone does it, but I’d prefer to focus on those Christians who do it for the right reasons rather than those who do not.
*2* And that is why we love the Irish.
*3* Donnette was laughing at a link to a Presbyterian church calendar, in which the every Sunday was marked red, but no other dates were. Also, in case anyone reading this is getting ready to correct me, I know that John Calvin actually had a different view on the Sabbath than what most Presbyterians hold to today, but he still practiced a weekly Sabbath, and our church calendar today far more resembles his than it does that of Rome, or for that matter Canterbury.
*4* Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
*5* And they are relentless about these sorts of things.