Updated: Feb 3
Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Ash Wednesday service, Years A, B, and C. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. This is important as a reminder for those entering forty days of personal wilderness testing and fasting for faith because it lists what Jesus had to say about acting Christian, versus putting on Christian airs.
Let me first address the aspect of associating the party-time known as Carnival, which comes to a jolly old end on Shrove Tuesday (aka “Fat Tuesday”), more popularly known by the French term Mardi Gras.
There is nothing in the Scriptures, especially not in the New Testament that instructs Christians or Jews to gorge themselves with either pancakes or sausage links before giving up something trivial for Lent. Nothing about what the media celebrates, like that New Orleans has based its reputation on, has anything whatsoever to do with the transition from a season where one’s personal Epiphany has brought one a step closer to serving the LORD full-time.
Before I met an Episcopalian woman and began to get to know the “catholic” version of Christianity, I had no idea, clue, or concept that Mardi Gras was in any way linked to religion, certainly not the Christian kind. I had never understood what Ash Wednesday was, nor do I remember ever seeing anyone walking around town with an rubbed-on cross of ash on his or her forehead, prior to my involvement with the Episcopalian Church.
When I was told the reasoning behind celebrations that included “King cakes,” parade floats with plastic beads to toss to onlookers, and bars overflowing with drunken people, it all seemed comparative to Halloween. That costumed ritual I had grown up with appeared to be like the Mardi Gras for All Saints Day. As a child, All Saints Day never crossed my mind; and I was still eating the candy collected the evening before. However, the longer I read Scripture and ponder the meanings that come to me (I don’t search libraries or scholars for anything other than confirmation of the ideas that come into my mind), the more I am able to see some sibilance or reason for an origin of respect for holidays like All Saints and Shrove Tuesday, then the more I am able to imagine how no one ever fully passed the meaning that I see onto others.
I deduce that when holy meaning is left solely to the brains of human beings to figure out, then all pure reason becomes lost and everything goes downhill (fast) after that. That is why I write. I want to share my insights, whatever worth they may have. So, bear with me as I offer them here, now.
In John’s Gospel, we read of Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana. There, he made well water taste like fine wine, even though it was well water ladled out of purification jugs. It was perceived to be better wine that that served before, but nowhere does it say Jesus made water become wine. John said the water became wine, but no one knew how that happened. Water became wine when it reached the headwaiter, but the servants knew it was water drawn from purification jugs.
I see that event as stating the actual fermented grape juice that was deemed “fine wine” had already been consumed, but Mother Mary was worried the guests expected more alcohol to keep their spirits high. Mary asked Jesus to do something, which became a spiritual transformation answer, rather than the physical change believed (something impossible, thus a miracle that cannot be reproduced).
Everyone at the wedding banquet was already one sheet to the wind, in celebration from drinking the best wine the bride’s father could afford. What Jesus did (or what God did for His Son) was pass the Holy Spirit onto well water, so the partiers got drunk on holy water. It tasted just as sweet as Manischewitz Concord grape wine and got everyone happy, without a hangover the next morning. Still, it was the wine of living water, not the juice of fermented grapes.
It has become clear to me over the past few years, which may not be clear to other Christian man folk, that God proposes marriage to those whose hearts are inclined towards Him. Women folk (at least historically) have been more open to submission through marriage, where that has become defined as living together (opposite sexes) with all legal rights to sex permitted. Historically, the purpose of marriage has been to produce babies (born of wedlock); and it is God’s intent to produce the birth of His Son in all His wives (male and female He marries them).
To all human beings, where the physical realm equates all matter (beings and things) to the feminine spirituality, a union with God (the masculine spirituality) will make His wives give rebirth to Jesus Christ (a holy male spirit). This is the “charge” assigned to the elements in astrology: earth and water = negative / feminine; fire and air = positive / masculine. The saying, “Opposites attract” is based in this polarity of charge, current, or proton versus electron numbers is the essence that is expressed in faith. Still, for a “spark” to occur, it is just like the child’s song that sings, “First comes love, then comes marriage.” The heart must open and receive (a feminine reaction) the Spirit (to an outward masculine action).
In other words, the revelry of a wedding feast is symbolic of the celebration of the bride (males and females who love God with all their hearts) and God. Everyone at that festive celebration will become drunk with Holy Spirit, rather than distilled spirits. That Biblical meaning (symbolic and sound) has been degraded and devalued over the centuries into the debauchery that is now a practice that revels in gluttonous and shameful (they wear masks to hide the shame during Mardi Gras) behavior.
As the ending touch for a personal Epiphany, ask yourself: Do I want to get high on the Holy Spirit? Or, do I want to get so down and dirty that I should stop calling myself “Christian” altogether and join a coven of witches and warlocks?
Only the individual’s heart can answer that truthfully.
This then takes us from the wanton selfishness of Carnival to the self-inflicted austerity of Lent. One has to realize that neither God nor Christ is looking for reluctant volunteers who think a bachelor party is best reward for opting for the path to eternal commitment (till death do two as one part). When the First Commandment is understood to say, “You shall not stand before God wearing any other god’s face than His,” it has to be understood that successful marriages only wear the face of One.
That prime Law states, “lō -yih·yeh lə·ḵā ’ĕ·lō·hîm ’ă·ḥê·rîm -‘al pā·nā·ya,” or “lo hayah leka elohim acherim al panaya,” or “פָּנָֽ֗יַ עַל־ אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים לְךָ֛֩ יִהְיֶֽה־ לֹֽ֣א” (Hebrew read right to left). Those words literally translate to say, “not you shall have gods other before me the face of.” (Exodus 20:3) That means, IF one is married to God, that union can only wear the face of God.
The problem caused by not fully understanding the implication of “elohim” as meaning every soul is eternal, such that lower case “g” “gods” include all living, breathing souls that inhabit human life forms. Anyone who worships his or her own brain (the almighty self), meaning one who tries to maintain an ego within a marriage union is breaking the most fundamental Law. The Covenant requires one to obey the Law, or that Agreement become null and void. Thus, worshipping self keeps one from ever facing God in the afterlife.
To be a servant or slave to God means one best become a subservient WIFE to the LORD, where the only face one wears is that of the Husband … God. That most holy face is then reflected as a lineage to the Father, the face of Jesus Christ, who resembles God as the Son. Therefore, no human being with a soul can let that soul whisper to it, “Man (or Girl), an eternity of walking the good path! You better get your groove on tonight, before all that “I do” stuff starts tomorrow!” That is the lure of failure and sin.
If that “groove” is like lusting for a “Fat Tuesday,” then that will mean there is no need, rhyme, or reason for any form of sacrifice or penitence. Therefore, forget giving up chocolate for as close to forty days as your will power allows, because God requires more of a sacrifice than that.
This brings me to the Ash Wednesday history that is explained online. Supposedly, Lent is “all about Easter,” when Jesus was raised from the dead. That explanation fits the reason for seasons that I see, where Christmas is the birth of Jesus within a believer – one sees the light – which then leads to the personal Epiphany – the dawning of a need to change. However, if Lent is the “austerity” of penitence, where the ultimate goal is to have the risen Lord rise within another human being (as a new Apostle, a new Saint), then Lent cannot be about pleading for forgiveness.
Instead, Lent is a willing test of one’s commitment in a marriage to God. Forgiveness was written on that folded card in envelope, laid on the silver platter that held the engagement proposal one accepted. Lent is then about proving one’s love of God.
John’s Gospel is the only one that did not write about Jesus willingly leaving the comfort of a common life (albeit a life of devotion to God) and entering a wilderness that tested his faith and commitment to the LORD. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus to the wilderness, for the purpose of being tested by Satan. Lent then has the prerequisite of being Spiritually changed, making it nothing like a New Year’s resolution or promise to change.
The symbolism of ashes at the onset of the Lenten season is that of death (ashes to ashes, dust to dust), not about being forgiven for being bad boys and girls, who go to church on Sunday, but after having partied hard on Saturday night. Ashes on the forehead mark one as dead to this sinful world, BUT still living through the love of God and the Mind of Christ (the presence of the Holy Spirit). One is marked as having totally given up on living for self, and the “X” on the forehead says, “Big Brains stay far away!”
The Lord has risen indeed!
This means the season of Epiphany can be summed up by Jesus telling his Blessed Mother, “My hour has not yet come.” The new birth of Jesus within (Christmas) leads one to meditation and deep thought about what that inner birth means. It is about pondering what God is calling one to do. However, one cannot be forced to do what one is not prepared to do.
An invitation or proposal of marriage demands sincere understanding of what commitment means. The end of the Epiphany season is when one finds deep love of God as the celebration feast of that union. Celebration and drunkenness are not the same.
The test in the wilderness that follows is like taking a red hot ingot of iron alloy and pounding it into shape, so that a hardening takes place in a quench of oil. It is proving the metal, so a blacksmith knows it will not break under pressure. The proved metal can then be refined, honed, polished, and detailed into a splendid work of art that has purpose.
Lent is that test of one’s strength, which proves one is prepared to enter a ministry for God. One must be transformed from a rough, raw material [ your name here ], into the glory that is a reproduction of the Son of Man … Jesus the Nazarene … Christ [ your name here ].
Realizing that is the purpose of Epiphany and the purpose of Lent, look now at what Jesus was quoted by Matthew to say.
“Beware of practicing your piety.”
“Do not sound a trumpet before you.”
“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.”
“Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”
If one enters into a stage of testing when everything about you or your or yourselves, then the union of fire and iron alloy will break, bend, of not be hardened in a quench of oil. The marriage will prove to be a sham, because the heart is more in love with you than God.
One does not have to give up chocolate to be God’s wife (males and females, remember), because God is not a Husband that sneaks behind one, looking for chocolate wrappers hidden away. “Your Father who is in secret” knows all your secrets. One has to be happily able to give up anything and everything that the world has to offer as lures that have won over the self before … prior to when one found Jesus and fell in love with God.
Lent is all about proving to God you can pass a test of strength, durability, and purpose … to become a tool of the LORD.
Thus, Satan stood with Jesus and tried to fill his brain with ideas that tempt the common human beings: living only on words chiseled into stone; seeing eternal life as present in reincarnation; and thinking worldly rewards are signs of God’s love. When Jesus told Satan, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” The judge on Forged in Fire would say about Jesus:
“That, sir, will kill!”
Lent is about killing the self, so the risen Lord can take one’s place. It is about killing the influences of evil and rejoicing in the ways of the LORD. It is about commanding the unclean spirit to depart one’s body.
This means Ash Wednesday is one’s personal recognition that it has become your time. The time has come to stop thinking and start doing. Acts of change forge into one’s life. The symbol of death to worldly desires marks your forehead, whether or not someone rubs holy oil with last Palm Sunday’s leftover palm branch crosses, burnt to ashes.
Ash Wednesday is the “hump day” where the test that comes afterward is all downhill and easy, taking one towards the day of rest, the seventh day, when all is holy. It is easy, simply because one has been prepared for what is coming and one is looking forward to being able to display one’s resolve, to do all that it takes to be in the name of Jesus Christ. It is impossibly hard work alone, without the assistance of angels – the Holy Spirit; but all things are possible when one has submitted to God’s protection.