“Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday.” The latter is the most popular search term on Google this morning. Its name comes from the practice of feasting before the fasting of Lent begins. Before the days of refrigeration, people would eat all the food that would otherwise spoil over the next seven weeks. And they would eat foods they would give up for the Lenten season.
What is “Lent”? The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic word “Lencten,” which means “spring.” It has been used for many centuries to signify the 40 days (excluding Sundays) preceding Easter. Why 40 days?
Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted for “forty days and forty nights” (Matthew 4:2). In addition, the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years of purification before entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 29:5). Noah’s flood continued for 40 days as God purified the world (Genesis 7:12). And according to tradition, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb for 40 hours before his Easter resurrection. All these facts led early Christians to set aside 40 days before Easter for spiritual purification and preparation.
Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday. This is always the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday. Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ foreheads. This observance reminds us of the death of Jesus and helps us realize the consequences of sin.
Across this Lenten season, we will focus each morning on a different “fear not” in Scripture. We begin with Jesus’ statement to his disciples, made on the Thursday night before his crucifixion. Judas has just left to bring the authorities who will arrest our Lord. Momentarily Jesus and the other eleven disciples will leave the Upper Room, where they have shared the Last Supper, for the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus warns them that he will soon be leaving them. But he promises that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). On this basis, he assures them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (v. 27).
Why is your heart “troubled” or “afraid” today? Name your fear and surrender it to the Holy Spirit living in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). Ask him to remind you of Jesus’ words and teach you what you should do. As we begin this season of preparation which culminates in Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, claim the fact that Jesus chose to die for you, that he is alive and praying for you at this moment (Romans 8:34). Remember that ashes on foreheads will soon wear off, but your crucified and risen Lord will be with you to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). And claim his peace.