Last week my friend Joshua Toepper (www.trinitarianmission.com) and I spent the day hiking, praying, and listening to God at the Abbey of Gethsemane. The following video is a reflection from one of the statues in the woods:
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Ashes of Wednesday that inaugurate the 40 day season of longing, Lent. Dating back to as before 1000, Shrove Tuesday (‘Fat Tuseday’) is a time to prepare for the season of Lent. Shrove’s origin is from the English verb to shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by the means of confession and penance. The origin of the celebratory aspect of “Shrove Tuesday” predates “Fat Tuesday”, “Carnival”, “Mardi Gras” and the Protestant Revolution. The idea was for people to release the “high spirits” before the “somber” season of Lent.
We have somehow translated “Shrovetide” or “Shrove Tuesday” into a variety of traditions that lack the bite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does eating pancakes have to do with preparing for lent? The rationale is that all the fatty ingredients that go into pancakes are often fasted during lent. Consider Mardi Gras or Carnival. What do the activities associated with these celebrations have to do with preparing for lent or even Christianity? Why does the church feel compelled to “celebrate sin” for a day before a season of fasting?
I want to suggest that we need to re-align our understanding of the Tuesday before Lent. We need to re-ground it in the narrative of Scripture. Specifically, we need to saturate it in the waters of our baptism into Christ. In yesterday’s post, I noted that it is immediately after Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit sends him into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days and to be tempted by Satan. What better way to prepare for the fasting and temptation of Lent than to follow our Lord and remember our baptism into his promise.
It is often noted of the Reformer Martin Luther that when tempted by Satan he would reply, “I AM Baptized.” Notice this is not a past action according to Luther, but a present promise of the benefits of being in Christ. How much more fitting would it be for us to remember our Baptism into Christ the Tuesday before Lent than to celebrate in spite of it.
Yesterday was transfiguration Sunday which marks a peak of ascent in the Christian calendar and journey. It is from the vantage point of the mountain of transfiguration that we see behind us the season of Epiphany and before us the season of Easter. Behind us is Christ’s baptism and before us is his death and resurrection. It is from this vantage point that along with Peter and James, we see Christ transfigured before us and then from out of a cloud of unapproachable light, we hear the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:1-9).
These words spoken from God the Father act as a segue from Epiphany into the season of lent. From the action of Christ’s baptism (in Epiphany) to its meaning for us (Easter). The first phrase from the clouds of the Mountain of Transfiguration was first spoken at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel:
“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17
After these words were spoken at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3, we find Jesus being, “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights.” (Mat. 4:1) This brings us to the longing of lent:
- To not live by bread alone, but by the words that come from the mouth of God. (Mat. 4:3-4)
- To not put the LORD to the test (Mat. 4:5-7)
- To dismiss Satan with our worship of “The LORD our God, serving him alone.” (Mat.4:8-10).
On the mountain of transfiguration where we stand in the Church calendar we are invited into this season of Longing, of Lent with the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” So we respond to the Epiphany of Jesus as God with obedience; listening and following Christ into a wilderness season of Lent that leads to the death and new life of Easter.
During this past week suffering and death have been ever before me: From a philosophy class I am taking on Suffering, Tragedy and the Christian Faith, to a Time article written by Rob Bell concerning him getting his call to be a pastor in the midst of severe headaches, to a guest lecturer in Chapel talking about growing up in the persecuted Church of Columbia, to filling out ACPE (Association of Clinical Pastoral Education) applications about my views of spiritual care and suffering, and last night hearing a friend’s testimony about God’s presence with him in the midst of his young wife’s death. These events bring me to today: the Lord’s Day, Sunday, the First day, and the eschatological eighth day… and then I’m reminded of the “reason for the season”, Epiphany – Christ being revealed as God in the Gospels… in the midst of suffering.
Before the Passion of Lent and the Resurrection of Easter comes the Epiphany of the B.C. proclamation in Isaiah 53, “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
The picture and the Isaiah 53 passage above are an attempt to articulate the reality of suffering, tragedy, sin and death in light of the reality of Jesus as LORD. It attempts to show that the cross is not only a historical event, but it is also a reality of God’s cruciform love for the world. I remember Robert Mulholland saying in class, “The Cross is not just something Jesus DID, it is a revelation of WHO God is.” During the season of Epiphany we see Jesus transfigured before us as God: Healing diseases, exorcising demons, and raising the dead. We follow the reality of Jesus as God in Epiphany into the reality of Christ’s cruciform love revealed in the Passion of Lent.