The church calendar has seasons similar to the seasons God created in the world. I have grown to love the seasons of the church calendar and allow them to guide me into deeper spiritual meaning for my life. This was the intention of the early church fathers. I know they would be discouraged to see that most of the world highlights Mardi Grau celebrating Fat Tuesday more than the focus of Lent which is a season of preparation for the commemoration of the days that changed the world, Good Friday through Easter!
But for those of us who have been transformed through the challenging but powerful experience of Lent as a preparation to take in the reality of Easter, it is a season of expectation and joy. I love to mark my journey to Easter each year through the celebration of Ash Wednesday. It seems so far away from Easter in many ways. Sacrificing something during Lent for 40 plus days makes the time seem longer than it really is. However, going without chocolate (whatever you give up) for 40 plus days feels like a huge sacrifice until you combine it with considering the sacrifice that Jesus experienced as He walked to the cross. Rather than a noble adventure, it becomes a pathetic reality that nothing we could ever sacrifice could repay the gift of our great salvation. So why do I do it?
The small sacrifice I make is a reminder of how important Easter is to my life and my eternal happiness. The sacrifice reminds me of the season I am experiencing and the reason I am sacrificing my natural desires. Inconsequential as my sacrifice may seem on the surface, it has a transforming effect on my soul. Each time I succeed or fail in denying myself, I connect to God’s love for me. It isn’t about completing a flawless fast; it is about embracing the story of Easter. It’s about receiving the reality of what Christ accomplished for me to overcome my sins on the cross and through His resurrection and ascension. The story, the reality of my salvation, is too immense to grasp even in one season of Lent. I return to this experience year after year to gently enable my soul to perceive the great work of God through Christ’s death on the cross. In many ways forty days is not enough, but it does the job for the year ahead.
Jesus did not create the church calendar and ask Christians to fast before Easter; this was the work of the church fathers. However, Jesus did tell us to fast. He also told us the time to fast will be after He made all things new. In His answer to those who questioned why His disciples were not fasting, he used the parable of the wineskins to explain that fasting would take on a whole new meaning for His disciples. Though fasting is an ancient tradition, its deeper meaning was made new after Easter. I agree with the church fathers that preparing for Easter is a perfect time to fast in the way Jesus foretold in Mark 2:18-22:
“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”