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According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.
Lent in turn is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.” But getting back to Jesus “wandering in the Wilderness” for 40 days, those 40 days mirrored the 40 years the Hebrews also spent “wandering around.” (Led by Moses.) But here’s the good news: Eventually those wandering Hebrews found the Promised Land. In much the same way, after 40 long days of penance, Lent leads us to the much-anticipated celebration of Easter, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. (“The Lord is risen … Indeed!”)
And here’s another bit of good news. It’s not 40 straight days of self-denial.
That’s because there are actually 46 days of Lent. 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. And why is that? Because Sundays don’t count. Sundays in Lent are basically “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” For example, if you’ve given up chocolate for Lent, you can still enjoy some chocolate treats on Sundays during Lent.
And by the way, somehow that little nugget of Bible wisdom got overlooked by the people who made the 2002 romantic comedy, 40 Days and 40 Nights. In that film the main character had to not have sex – to refrain “from any sexual contact” – for the duration of Lent. But as noted above, he “could have taken Sundays off.” Which again just goes to show:
It pays to read and study the Bible!
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And speaking of wandering Hebrews who eventually found the Promised Land: The link above connects to an article, The Promise of the Promised Land | My Jewish Learning. It explains why possession of this Promised Land depends so much on continuing “moral behavior:”
Those who live in the land are tempted to take part in the struggle between the powers as a way to aggrandize power for themselves. But the only way to live in the Land peacefully and to bring a vision of peace to the world is by refraining from participation in those pagan power struggles and by living a life of justice and truth in accordance with the Torah.
On that note, America has also been seen as the Promised Land by many, but I’d say that in view of today’s backstabbing politics – not to mention ongoing natural disasters – we Americans have been weighed on the balances and found wanting. But I’m not talking about restoring that balance through so-called Christian nationalism. (Which is anything but Christian.) Instead today’s “Christian nationalists” are more like the Pharisees and other too-conservatives who plagued Jesus in His time, and who continue to plague real Christians “even to this day.”
But as Garry Wills and others have noted, Jesus was above politics. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36.) And as I explained in Garry Wills and “What Jesus (REALLY) Meant.” Jesus simply never got involved in politics. He focused instead on healing the divisions so prevalent during His time on earth, not making them worse. (As some politicians do today.)
In other words, true Christians today should – to the extent possible – refrain from participating in today’s “pagan power struggles.” But instead, too many identify themselves as “Conservative Christian” or “Liberal Christian.” In plain words they place their political beliefs before their Christian faith. In plainer words, “Don’t place politics over your Christian faith.”
In turn, if one party believes it’s the “more Christian,” it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s time for them to show they’re part of the Ministry of Reconciliation. (2d Corinthians 5:18.) But getting back to the Garry Wills post, for him – along with Johnny Cash and Billy Graham* – Jesus was all about love. And that’s not to mention the Apostle Paul, who gave us 1st Corinthians 13:4-7.
The main theme of Wills’ book is that Jesus was “radical” in his love for all people. (Even – gasp – for liberals! And for that matter, even for those people [who] are a real pain in the ass.) Wills noted that Jesus spent little time with the well-to-do, and seemed to prefer the company of whores, lepers and outcasts of all types. As Wills put it, Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.”
Which is also the Christian love Johnny Cash showed. In Cash’s Religion and Political Views, the author wrote, “I like to think that Johnny was above politics and more about people and peace and happiness and cooperation.” Or as Cash’s daughter Rosanne said, her father “didn’t care where you stood politically.” He could “love all stripes, and that’s why all stripes claim him.”
Something to contemplate during this Lent 2023, when we look ahead to Easter.
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The upper image is courtesy of Ash Wednesday Images – Image Results. It goes with an article at the website, Classical Astronomy – Home of the Signs & Seasons Curriculum, including this:
People often wonder why the dates of Easter and Ash Wednesday and other feasts are different each year. These are “moveable feasts” that are fixed by the cycle of the Moon’s phases. Easter (or properly, Pascha) is essentially defined to be the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the first day of spring, which is different every year. Ash Wednesday is defined to be 40 days ahead of the pre-calculated date of Easter.
I based this post on past posts on the subject, including On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016, On Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – 2020, and On Ash Wednesday – 2022. Also, I borrowed the “from any sexual contact” observation from OMG! Is it time for Lent again?
The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.
America also “Promised Land.” The full link cite is America as the Promised Land | Museum of the Bible.
“The Lord is risen … Indeed.” The link is to Paschal greeting – Wikipedia, noting that in many churches this is part of the traditional greeting on Easter morning and throughout Easter week: “Christus surréxit! – Surréxit vere, allelúja.” (“Christ is risen” – “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”):
This ancient phrase echoes the greeting of the angel to Mary Magdalene, to Mary the mother of James, and to Joseph, as they arrived at the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus: “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said” (Matt 28:6).  It is used among Catholics when meeting one another during Eastertide; some even answer their telephones with the phrase.
Billy Graham. He so believed in Jesus’ message of loving all people that some too-conservatives called him either “False Shepherd” or “Antichrist.” See Billy Graham – Ecumenicalist and False Shepherd and BILLY GRAHAM: SERVANT OF CHRIST OR OF ANTICHRIST? His “crime” seems to have been that he could get along with people like Muslims and the Pope. (Heck, he probably even got along with “whores, lepers and outcasts of all types.“)
The lower image is courtesy of Lent – Wikipedia. The caption:
Lent celebrants carrying out a street procession during Holy Week [in Nicaragua.] The violet color is often associated with penance and detachment. Similar Christian penitential practice is seen in other Catholic countries, sometimes associated with mortification of the flesh.
The article added that Lent’s “institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus … which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
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