Almost everyone is aware of Mardi Gras and Carnival. But not many are aware of how these two “feast” events are connected to the season of Lent.
And since Lent involves fasting, which is the opposite of feasting, it is important to know that the early observers of Lent would eat all they could the day before on Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday,” or observe Carnival, which means “Flesh be gone,” to prepare to refrain from eating meat and living a life of controlled religious sobriety beginning the next day, Wednesday.
And this week marks the beginning of that season called Lent. The term “Lent” was adopted in the late Middle Ages as sermons began to be prepared and delivered in English, rather than in Latin as was done in previous centuries. The English word “lent” initially meant just “spring” and derives from the Germanic root for “long” because, in the spring, the days visibly lengthen.
Lent, in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus the Christ. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the Christian believer — through prayer, praise, penitence and patience — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, recalling the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Conventionally, it is described as being 40 days long, though different denominations calculate the 40 days differently. The 40 days represents the time which, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.
The number 40 is important. Look at the biblical references: Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18). Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8); God sent rain 40 days and nights in the great flood of Noah (Genesis 7:4). The Hebrew people wandered 40 years in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:33). Jonah, in his prophecy of judgment, gave the city of Nineveh 40 days in which to repent (Jonah 3:4).
The practice of lent and fasting was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation. Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent but many, such as Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans do. However, in recent years, more protestant churches are returning to the practice of fasting during Lent.
Most followers of Western Christianity observe Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Holy Saturday. But, regardless to how one feels about the legitimacy of the Lenten season, arguably it is still a good practice for Christians to spend time in serious reflection on the meaning of our faith in Jesus.
So I offer the following suggestions: First, during this special time, let’s consider the season. It is the most important time on the Christian calendar.
Then, let us together in earnest cultivate a life of prayer. I have commented often on my personal time with the Savior and I am the better because I carve out a special time daily for me and Him. Then, let us claim God’s promises. When we are faithful to our calling, the Lord promises to bless us in ways that defy our understanding. Then, it is always helpful in prayer to confess our faults.
Finally, it will be strengthening to commit to fasting with the several other hundreds of millions of Christians around the world, as we learn from our Master the spiritual strength we derive from sacrificing for another.
I pray for you and desire and deserve your prayers for me.