Fat, Ashes, and Giving Up:
A new month begins. And early in this month a new season begins. No, not Spring (that will have to wait until March 21st). But Lent does begin soon. A time of preparation for the retelling of the Easter story of Triumphant entry, arrest, trial, execution and then new life.
Lent begins with Fat and Ashes. Well sort of. (Incidentally, I seem to remember reading somewhere that you can use fat and ashes to make Lye Soap, but I digress.) The day before Lent is Mardi Gras, which literally means Fat Tuesday. Traditionally it was a time to use up things like fat and eggs before the long fast of Lent began. Now it is either a time to have Pancakes (remember to come to our Pancake Supper on March 8!) or, if you are in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, have a great big blowout party. And the Ashes?
The first official day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a time to begin the Lenten time of reflecting on our lives. We mark our foreheads with ashes to remember the fact that we do not always live as God would have us live. It is a service of repentance. Traditionally the ashes for this service come from burning the palms from last year's Palm Sunday celebration. Where once the Palms were signs of hope for a changed world now they remind us that we and the world are still in need of being changed.
And then we are into the 40 days (not counting Sundays) of Lent. This is a season of reflection. There is a tradition of “giving something up” for Lent. This maybe a food item, or an activity, or a habit. Some see this as an onerous obligation. Some see it as remarkably freeing. Why give something up? Well maybe as an act of personal discipline. Maybe pushing ourselves to go without something for a period of time helps us get control over our lives. Maybe we give something up to remind ourselves that not everyone gets all that they want or need. Or maybe we give something up because it is something that God is telling us we don't need at all.
Other people “take something on” for Lent. This could be a spiritual practice like daily prayer and Scripture reading, or doing “Random Acts of Kindness” each day, or some other way of changing how we interact with God and our world. This too can be onerous or liberating.
As we enter into this season of preparing for the festival at the heart of our faith I challenge you to ask what you may need to give up or take on. How do we need to prepare ourselves, as individuals and as a community, for the story of death and new life? Between the ashes (symbolic since we are not having an Ash Wednesday service this year) of last year's hopes and the waving of new palms what needs to be changed?
As Jesus walks the road to Jerusalem and the cross we walk with him. This Lent, may the journey to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb change us.. And through us, may it change the world.
Fat and ashes and giving up (or taking on). A strange combination. But then God works in mysterious ways.