Monthly Archives: February 2020

On Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – 2020

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent – (a metaphor of sorts by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

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The next Feast Day – after St Matthias, Apostle, on Monday, February 24* – is Ash Wednesday, February 26. There’s more on Ash Wednesday further below, but first a note on different types of Christian.

One key difference is “Literal” versus “Spiritual” Christians. A Literal Christian tends to read and study the Bible only in a strict, literal or “Fundamentalist” way. A Spiritual Christian – on the other hand – tries to read the Bible in both a literal and a spiritual way.

Such a Spiritual Christian can go back and forth, often reading the Bible in a way that helps him open up new spiritual horizons. In doing so he tries to follow the path Jesus set out in Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” But as a matter of course he comes back – from time to time – to “the Literal way.” He does that when necessary to stay grounded in the basics, the fundamentals of Bible study.

In other words. he gets the best of both worlds.

In further words, he keeps in mind what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:6. In the Contemporary English Version, Paul said that Jesus “makes us worthy to be the servants of his new agreement that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from a written Law. After all, the [letter of the] Law brings death, but the Spirit brings life.” Then there’s John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” And also John 6:63, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life… And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

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Now, back to the topic of Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:

According to the canonical gospels of MatthewMark and LukeJesus 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.

See Wikipedia, and also On Ash Wednesday and Lent. In turn, the Ash Wednesday – Lent post explained a bit about the “Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” as shown in the top painting. The point is, Ash Wednesday is always preceded by Fat Tuesday. And as an aside, the French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and that’s now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!” 

As Wikipedia said, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.” But that debauchery is always – in the church calendar – followed by Lent. Lent in turn is a season devoted to “prayerpenancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement and self-denial.

And as noted, those “40 days of Lent” are supposed to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent “wandering in the wilderness.” In turn, that act by Jesus – “wandering in the Wilderness” – mirrored the 40 years that the Hebrews – led by Moses – also spent “wandering around.”

But before those days of Lenten “wandering in the wilderness,” there’s one last celebration, one last “blowout.” (And the whole Christian – or liturgical – calendar year is pretty much filled with such alternating seasons of celebration and penance…) But while fasting and abstinence are the usual components of a Lenten discipline, keep in mind what Jesus said.

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus said, “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”  Instead, He said to basically put on a happy face. That way, “your fasting may be seen not by others, but by your Father who is in secret.”

In other words, the Christian pilgrimage consists of both fasting and feasting:

Lent is about both fasting and feasting… And that’s what we Christians do during Lent. We retell our story of slavery to sin and death. We remember that we are dust and into dust we shall return. We remember our helplessness and hopelessness. We remember that we are utterly dependent on God’s gift of deliverance. And we celebrate, we feast.

Here’s wishing you a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Lent!

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Past posts used in writing this post include 2015’s On Ash Wednesday and Lent, 2016’s On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016, and from last year, OMG! Is it time for Lent again? The images in this post were borrowed from those past posts.

For more on St. Matthias – “the apostle chosen by the remaining eleven apostles to replace Judas Iscariot following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and suicide” – see On St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts.”

Re: Fasting and feasting. See also Fasting and Feasting – Flowing Faith.

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The “Presentation of our Lord” – 2020

Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus” – at the Presentation of Our Lord

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Last Sunday, February 2, was the Feast Day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple:


Counting forward from December 25 as Day One, we find that Day Forty is February 2.  A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem…

In other words, the day celebrates “an early episode in the life of Jesus.” That is, His presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem, “in order to officially induct him into Judaism.”  And by the way, it’s also known as Candlemas.  (As shown above right.)  

I’ve covered this Feast Day in past posts, including 2015’s On The Presentation of Our Lord, 2016’s The Presentation of the Lord – 2016, 2017’s On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord,” and last year’s “The LORD is a God of knowledge” – The Presentation, 2019.

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The 2015 post has lots of information on Mardi Gras, which happens this year on February 25. (The point being that the “Feast of the Presentation” leads directly on to Ash Wednesday, Lent and ultimately to Easter.) And the fact that way too many people see Mardi Gras as just another excuse to party, without seeing any connection to religion or spirituality.

 The bad news – to some – is that Mardi Gras is followed immediately by Lent, a “solemn religious observance,” 40 days of atonement, self-denial, prayerpenancerepentance, and almsgiving. And incidentally, that’s not 40 days straight of “self-denial.”  You get Sundays off to enjoy whatever it is you’ll be giving up for Lent.

As to the last, see OMG! Is it time for Lent again? That is, there are actually 46 days of Lent: 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. That’s because Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” (A bit of Bible wisdom that got overlooked by the writers and/or producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights. See below right.)

Which brings up another bit of Bible wisdom that I overlooked – or failed to mention before – based on my recent trip to Utah. (From December 27 to January 9.) That is, the fact that January 1st is the day celebrated by some Christians as the time “Our Lord first shed His blood for us.”

On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. Since we are more squeamish* than our ancestors, modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older. Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us.

See Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys,” which notes the anomaly that – in our “modern” view – January 1 is seven days after December 25. 

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And finally, one note of interest: Generally the February 2d “Presentation” comes roughly halfway into the Season of Epiphany. Which this year ends with Ash Wednesday, February 26. Which leads – as noted – to both Lent and Easter:

As it is the first day of Lent, some Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and abstaining from a luxury that they will not partake of until Eastertide arrives.

Which also leads to what could be called the Second Presentation of Jesus.” That is, Ash Wednesday leads to Good Friday, with Jesus about to be crucified – for us and our shortcomings – as shown below…

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Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus…”

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The upper image is courtesy of the “Simeon” link in the Wikipedia article on the Presentation.  That caption:  “Simeon the Godreceiver [sic] by Alexei Egorov. 1830–40s.”  The caption for that “upper image” is actually the one from Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus. That’s another interpretation of the event, by Rembrandt (van Rijn).  (Far better known that Egorov.)  You can see Rembrandt’s interpretation at “Wikigallery,” or at “Rembrandtonline.”

Re: “squeamish.” That is, “easily shocked, offended, or disgusted by unpleasant things.”

The lower image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

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