Special Sundays

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I technically knew that Sundays were break from Lent, but I also know that one of upcoming Sundays is a special occasion – so I thought if one Sunday in Lent must be special, then all of them must represent something special.

That’s just how it works in pretty much every church I’d ever attended. Revival Week, for example, meant that there was a meeting at church every evening to try to spark the spirit of revival, but it was the last Sunday that was viewed as the culmination of the revival. Someone would likely speak about what happened in the meetings and tell us how many people decided to rededicate their lives or accept the Son into their lives and ask to be baptized.

Same goes for Vacation Bible School week – Sunday’s culmination of that would be a time when children could show us what they learned, the motions to the songs, talk about their favorite games, or a teaching that they felt was important.

So I expected the First Sunday of Lent to be culmination of the first week of Lent. Technically it’s only been a few days, but it seems that this Sunday is like any other Sunday. This is what I have learned:

Some will say “I don’t cheat on Sundays” and fast continue to fast much as the would any other Day of Lent. Others point out “Sundays don’t count” and break the fast. By the end of Lent, both groups will have fasted forty days – only the former group fasts six more days. Not counting Sunday isn’t cheating. When the calendar was created the church ministers recognized that the Lord’s Day was so sacred that it superseded Lenten traditions.

I expected Lenten Sundays to be special in the way that Holy Week/Easter or Christmas Sundays are special. Marked in some way, set aside somehow. Then I think back to the Sundays I read about in Little House in the Prairie – how Saturdays would be spent with double the work-load preparing for Sunday so that there would be nothing left to do. I think back to the Sundays I read about when blue laws closed down every store and business so that everyone could go to church. I wouldn’t want that. It’s unfair for those whose religious holidays don’t fall on the same day of the week.

So I struggle with the holiness of Sundays, they’re much the same as any other Sunday, a time when I have more time – but am not sure what to do with it. Perhaps Lent’s Sundays are special in their own little way – just special in a different way than Lent is special.

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How to Spark a Reformation

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Coming from a Baptist background, Lent has always been optional. It wasn’t always that way …

It was a Friday in March of 1522, Lent was well underway and the expectation was that nobody would eat meat. A printer in the city of Zurich, Switzerland by the name of Christopher Froschauer was thrilled to see that he and his workers had managed to complete a successful printing of the The Epistles of Saint Paul. He opted to celebrate by serving them sausages. He made the mistake of offering them to a few dignitaries and priests. Soon there was a public outcry and he was arrested.

Though Ulrich Zwingli hadn’t eaten any of the sausages himself, he was quick to come to Cristopher’s defense. He even preached a sermon: Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods – through which he argued that fasting should be voluntary, not mandatory.

Little did they know that in much the same way as Martin Luther had sparked a reformation through his thesis, this act of breaking a mandatory fast likewise sparked the Swiss Reformation.

Zwingli believed that Lent was subject to individual rule, and wasn’t a disciple that the church could require of everyone. By adhering to other Reformation ideas – Sola Scriptura, he pointed out that there weren’t any verses governing the practice or tradition of Lent in scripture. He also argued for Christian liberty. So Lent became optional.

Over time, churches continued to split and form new ones – the question of Lent would invariably arise. For those of us whose faith tradition is a descendant of that of the reformers and are Protestants, Lent is almost a foreign concept. I’m not sure if the Reformers would be celebrating to know that their actions are the reason why we have given up this season of fasting and service and prayer. I think they still would want us to maintain a sense of spirituality, just by our choice – they might not have wanted us to use their actions to erase Lent from the calendar altogether. It seems though, that’s what we’ve done. In a church famous for pot-lucks and high obesity rates, we’ve give into a tendency to overindulge.

I’m not sure of the exact occasion, but one year our church did challenge the youth group to complete the 30 Hour Famine, a fast that doubled as a fund-raiser sponsored  by WorldVision to help children living in poverty who far too often go hungry. That is the extent of my experience with church-approved fasting.

If want to be technical about it, Jesus might have said “when you fast …” but the Bible never directly tells when to fast or how to fast, so we can find any excuse not to fast we want. While we’re at it, we can probably cross Easter and Christmas off of the calendar as well because the Bible says nothing about some of the traditions we celebrate so they must be unbiblical. We can get out of a lot of religious obligations that way. But that doesn’t explain why we still cross off a lot of ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ on our to-do list; care for the poor, feed the hungry, provide clothing, provide shelter, visit the ill, visit the imprisoned, etc. We ignore even more religious obligations than we should. Which is why Lent is almost a three-for-one deal. It sets aside a ‘when’ to fast, a ‘when’ to give and serve, and a ‘when’ to pray. Sure, it’s not in the Bible – but some things that aren’t in the Bible aren’t worth erasing.

In a way, we’re the continuation of the story of an unwritten gospel, and how we live out our lives reflect what’s in our hearts. Our ancient brothers and sisters continued the story by creating Lent as a season they could focus on the gospel message, they celebrated it together for over a thousand years. Many still celebrate it today after all this time. Those of us who stand on liberty should remember that we’re also free to fast and pray and serve and give, these things aren’t exactly optional – so why not do all of that together with our spiritual siblings even if it’s only for one day of Lent?

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Credit goes to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Sausages – I’m not so sure the name really tells the story, but it’s a fascinating look at a bit of history even I didn’t know.

Looking Back at Ash Wednesday

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In Western Christianity, before Lent begins, Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras is everyone’s last chance to indulge. Traditionally, the foods that people are supposed to fast from during Lent are cooked up and used up and served. After all, the ancient world didn’t really have refrigeration, so they had to either use it or lose it – throw it out. Pancakes breakfasts, eating pizza – if it uses up flour, odds are it’s on the menu. Carnival is also associated with this time – big parties go on, giving a chance for people to go wild. Carnival comes from the Latin words ‘Carne vale’ or ‘farewell to meat/flesh’.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the start of the season of fasting and prayer. During mass, the ashes from the palm fronds that were blessed the previous year are used to mark believers with a cross on their foreheads. The priests will say either: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” or “Repent, and believe the gospel.” Ashes serve as a visible symbol of penance and a reminder of our mortality.

Fasting doesn’t mean that believers must not eat at all, rather they are permitted to eat one normal meal and two smaller meals that do not add up to the same size as the larger meal. Snacks are not permitted. There are some exceptions to fasting, small children, pregnant women, and elderly men and women are not required to fast as it would be dangerous to their health. Also, believers are to abstain form eating meat on Fridays, but they can eat fish. Throughout Lent, believers fast in this manner, however Sundays are exempt from fasting as they are not as a part of Lent.

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credit goes to the source: http://www.catholic.org/

Clean Monday, the Start of Clean Week

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It shouldn’t be surprising that when the church began to split, it’s practices and teachings began to differ, particularly in the celebration of Lent. So let’s take a look at how one Christian tradition begins Lent …

In Eastern Christianity, the first day of Great Lent is Clean Monday, which is two days before Ash Wednesday. It is a day that focuses on setting behind believers sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. On the Liturgical Calendar, Lent actually begins the night before at a special service called Forgiveness Vespers which features the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness. It’s when everyone who is present bows down before one another and asks for forgiveness. This lets them begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. Going to confession and cleaning one’s house thoroughly are also apart of the first week of Lent.

At the 6th hour (which would be 12’o’clock noon) Isaiah 1:1-20 is to be read. Clean Monday is based on theses verses in particular: “Wash yourselves and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, I will make them white as wool (vv. 16–8).”

Clean Monday happens to be a public holiday in Cyprus and Greece – it has a happy, springtime feeling to it because of Matthew 6:14-21 (which is read on the morning before):
When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret… (v. 16-18).

Ash Wednesday is not observed in Eastern Christianity, so that’s how they get Lent started.

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Lots of credit goes to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Monday for giving me the particular info on it – this should be an interesting series!