Since February 17, 2021, people have been observing the season of lent, a period of extreme religious tradition. It began on Shrove Tuesday when people burn palms from the Palm Sunday events of last year and place the ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday officially began the season of Lent, which is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Today, Sunday, March 28, is called Palm Sunday to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when people hailed Him as a king and placed palm branches in His path. Then follows Holy Monday and Tuesday, remembering the challenges to Jesus by the Pharisees. Spy Wednesday recalls the bargaining of Judas with the Pharisees. Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion. Black Saturday tells of Jesus descending into hades. The Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection.
The Catholic Church over the centuries has commemorated these days, but they are not biblical commands. The spin-offs from all of this are enormous. Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday was a feasting time with particular emphasis on pancakes and sweets of all kinds. Some people call it “Fat Tuesday,” and in French, that title is Mardi Gras. The word “lent” comes from “lencten,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spring season.” The use of ashes was a Jewish tradition indicating penitence.
None of these traditions were commanded by Christ or any of the apostles. Even the word “Easter” used in Acts 12:45 in the King James translation is actually a reference to the Passover when the plagues in Egypt freed the Hebrews from slavery. The first-century Church celebrated the resurrection every Sunday, so there was no Sunday deemed more important than the others.
We all need to be reminded of the death and resurrection of Christ. But adding to the biblical account has not only precipitated the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Easter Bunny, decorated eggs, and a variety of celebrations in different cultures.
The Holy Week is a human attempt to remind the world that Jesus came, died, and rose from the grave and that His sacrifice has blessed all of humanity. None of it is wrong, and we applaud the dedication of many who participate in these things. At the same time, we need to realize that God does not enslave us with rituals and added burdens. Jesus said it best “Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) We can appreciate cultural expressions of the gospel message in the season of lent, but we must not be oppressed by them.
— John N. Clayton © 2021