Ash Wednesday: Strangeness Abounds

(My lectionary-based reflections are typically posted about two weeks before the Sunday scheduled for the Bible lessons. But with Ash Wednesday this week, I’ve tossed in an essay to honor Lent’s official beginnings.)

ash-wednesday+(from+stanthonyfresno.org)Nobody cares.

Which is not true, since statements with “nobody” or “everybody” (therefore meaning absolutely no one or including every single person) are rarely accurate.

But it’s true enough!

Ah, what does “nobody” care about?

Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Lent?

With Ash Wednesday on February 13, Easter’s official preparations begin. Lent is an artificial creation of the Christian church to help believers “cleanse” themselves before arriving at the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Traditionally this cleansing, this getting “right with God,” has emphasized personal sacrifice.

But it is an artificial creation. For Christians, there are no Biblical mandates to set aside the 40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter for personal sacrifice. In fact, there’s no real “date” for Easter in the Bible either. And further, note how that second sentence in this paragraph was so confusing? Go ahead, say it out loud:  40 non-Sunday calendar days before Easter. Huh?

Who cares! Who can understand all this add-on junk for Jesus?

Aren’t we Christians utterly strange? Any scholar who can wag a finger and say, “tsk, tsk,” will tell you Jesus wasn’t born in the year “0,” let alone December . . . but every December we roll out the carpet for the holy babe. Easter’s slippery calendar date is because of the full moon. Huh? And . . . please explain to me why, for centuries, Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays? But now they can. However, Friday is still a day when clam chowder is usually the soup-of-the-day at most greasy spoons! Strangeness abounds. Strangeness multiplies.

I agree with the many contemporary Christian thinkers who label the era we are living in as “post-Christian.” Post-Christian, among other meanings, claims that the culture around us is only minimally influenced by Christian traditions and beliefs. Several generations ago, in America, this was not the case. But it is now.

  • The Sabbath is a day of rest. Ha! Not in the “post-Christian” era. (And by the way, what does “Sabbath” mean?)
  • What’s more important in your home: Maundy Thursday or Super Bowl Sunday? (Excuse me, could you explain why a Monday is on Thursday? Oh, you said “Maundy” and not “Monday” . . . OK, what does that mean?)
  • What do you do during Holy Week? (When is that week . . . isn’t it right around spring break for the kids?)

For me, Lent is rightly ignored if you are forced to do it, or if it feels like a ho-hum obligation rather than a personal choice.

And yet, in the midst of Lent being an artificial creation of the church, and a time most folks will likely ignore, I still advocate for choosing it as part of a person’s Christian faith journey.

Each Lent—stretching from Ash Wednesday to Black (or Holy) Saturday—nudges me to reflect on where I might change, improve or grow.

I don’t do it because Jesus told me too. Frankly I suspect that Jesus, for the little we know about him, would probably raise his eyebrows and chuckle at disciplines like meatless Fridays. Perhaps Joseph and Mary’s lad would even prefer a beer and kosher pizza and a Super Bowl bash to Ash Wednesday. Who knows?

I also practice Lenten disciplines knowing that Lent’s earlier history was often used to oppress believers . . . if you don’t do what the CHURCH tells ya, you’re gonna go to hell! Yikes!

During Lent 2013 I am going to . . . well, I’m not going to tell you what I may give up or might start doing. My decisions are private. My journey is mine.

In prior Lents I’ve done silly things like not eating snack chips. How I love Doritos! And I’ve done serious things like volunteering at a local hospice—which led to my current part-time job. Whether silly or serious, whether saying “no” or “yes,” my decisions challenged my daily life.

Lent helps me practice a few choices that cause me to think more about how I can serve God rather than serve only me.

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