Given that we have a number of people coming to Good Shepherd who've never been to church or who are from non-liturgical churches, I'll bet some, at least, are wondering what exactly "Shrove Tuesday", "Ash Wednesday" and "Lent" are.
Let me start with some definitions.
Shrove Tuesday: To "shrive" someone is to hear someone's confession of sin and to assure them of God's forgiveness. "Shrove" Tuesday was traditionally (pre-Reformation) the day when confessions were heard and absolution given in preparation for the lenten fast (see below).
Ash Wednesday: "Ash Wednesday" is the first day of "Lent". Traditionally Christians smear their foreheads with ashes from burnt palm leaves (saved from the previous year's Palm Sunday service) to signify sorrow for sin and to acknowledge that we are but "dust" and "to dust we shall return".
"Lent" is the 40 day period traditionally set aside for self-examination, fasting, and repentance before Holy Week and Easter. The word "lent" comes from an Old English word for "spring". It comes from a German root word (Matthias, maybe you can help here?) for "long"...probably because days grow "longer" during the spring.
Since "Lent" always begins on "Ash Wednesday", the Tuesday before was traditionally set aside (especially before the Reformation) as a sort of "last hurrah"...a day of celebration before lenten confessions and disciplines. Today, believers often commit to a special discipline during Lent in order to deepen their relationship with Christ.
In some places (New Orleans in particular) the Tuesday before "Lent" became the: "Let's-get-all-the- sin-out-of-our-system-before-we-go-to-confession-on-Ash-Wednesday" Day...
In England they just ate pancakes...I have no idea why.
Since we are an "Anglican" church (ie...our roots are with the Church of England) we tend toward the pancake rather than the New Orleans rout...hence the upcoming Pancake Supper.
Lent can be a very confusing time for those who were not raised in liturgical churches. Some wonder why we set aside a special season of repentance when repentance is something that we should do all year round. And they are right about that at least.
At the same time, purposefully setting a season apart from self-examination, fasting, and prayer, can be very helpful. In my own life, God has used the disciplines I've taken on during Lent to give me victory over a number of besetting sins. It is a time to really pull sin out by the roots. I mean, if nothing else, last week's text from 1st Corinthians 9:24-27, tells us that spiritual discipline is something to which God calls every believer.
...Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified...
A few years ago, I wrote an article about Lent and how to figure out what to do in order to use it effectively. Here's an excerpt:
The word “repentance” comes from the Greek word “metanoia.” Metanoia literally means “to turn around and go the other way.” And that, simply stated, is the perfect description of repentance. When you sin you turn away from God. Repentance turns you around. It’s much more than just feeling sorry for doing wrong (although that is the place to start). It’s an active transformation; a commitment to do, to act, to move in accordance with God’s will rather than against it.Of course you can do all of this at any time during the year, but I suppose the question is "do you?". For me, the answer, sadly, is "no", so I personally need the emphasis on repentance that Lent brings.
And that is where the whole idea of a Lenten discipline comes in.
For believers, Lent can be a time when you actively work to rid yourself of sins that have grown into habits and/or addictions (yes, this should be something we do all year round but it’s helpful to have a time like Lent set aside for that very purpose).
So, rather than thinking about what vice to give up or what discipline to add, a better place to start is prayer. Ask God to search your heart and bring to your mind those habits of thought, word, and/or deed that displease him most. (Sometimes what is displeasing in your life will be so obvious that you won’t even need to pray, you’ll just know. The Holy Spirit living inside you will have made it abundantly clear already). When you ask this in sincerity you can be sure that God will provide you with an answer.
This answer will tell you whether you need to add a discipline or be rid of a behavior or attitude. If, for example you believe that God wants you to be more committed to studying scripture, then you should probably consider adding personal or group bible study to your routine. If on the other hand you believe God is displeased with the amount of time you spend on the internet or the kinds of things you look at on-line, then you should probably consider cutting out or down on your computer usage or installing some parental control program to keep you accountable (even if, especially if, you’re a parent).
In other words, your Lenten discipline should not be arbitrary. If you have a problem with lust, don’t give up chocolate. Give up whatever it is that leads you into lustful behavior. And don’t just give it up for Lent, use Lent to give it up forever. Let the Lord know that you are committed to turning from the sin he has shown you and then ask him to help you in your task though the power of his Holy Spirit.
So, here are your Thursday Notes:
Shrove Tuesday Pancake Feast and Mardi-Gras (yes,I know I just said we tend not to celebrate Mardi-Gras in the New Orleans fashion...but this Mardi-Gras (or Fat Tuesday) will not be like THAT Mardi-Gras). As you may or may not know, we are planning a huge celebration for Shrove Tuesday and we are inviting as many people as possible in the neighborhood to come and share pancakes and a fun safe evening. We'll be passing out flyers in the neighborhood beginning next week. We will certainly need your help. There is a sign-up sheet downstairs in the Parish Hall. There is a great variety of tasks. Please volunteer to help with this outreach event. We need you.
Evangelism teams: Shrove Tuesday Flyer Distribution is scheduled for Saturday (I'll come back to you with the time)....now technically we will not be doing "evangelism" in the sense of telling people about Jesus (unless of course there is an opening). Instead this is simply a "get to know you" sort of operation. We are introducing Good Shepherd to the neighborhood, saying effectively, "we're your new neighbors and we'd like to get to know you" and passing out invitations to a pancake supper. That's all.
There are two teams being organized so far...but we need volunteers (I'd like to have one more team). There are about 1000 flyers to post and distribute around the neighborhood...which should be more than enough. Please come and help.
Pie and Cake Sunday: March 1st is going to be a big day. The Diocese of Central New York will be officially decommissioning "Good Shepherd". We, on the other hand, are going to have a party. Please bring your favorite pie or cake to church Sunday March 1st and invite neighbors, friends, acquaintances young and old to join us as we worship with an extra bit of sweet hospitality. The pie and cake will be served between services during Christian Ed and also after the 10:30 Worship Service. Remember that Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection, is never a day of fasting (not even during Lent).
Men's Breakfast and Bible Study: Ray and Charles are cooking tomorrow morning. See you there.
Thursday Night Bible Study will go on tonight for the first time since the Shepherd's Bowl was closed down. Please pray that people come.
Women's Bible Study will meet on Saturday at 10:00am in the Parish hall
Christian Education: Christ and Culture: We've completed our review of various cultural influences in the west...now we'll turn to discuss a number of strategies Christians have used in the past...the strategy is called the "Christ of Culture"
All right, I think that's all. See you Sunday and stay tuned for the Update tomorrow.