Ash Wednesday, Lent, (and p.s. Mardi Gras)


Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter, 40 days if you don’t count Sundays.  This year it fell on February 25th.  This marks the beginning of Lent, a time of preparation for Holy Week.  At an Ash Wednesday service, part of the ceremony is placing ashes on the forehead as an outward symbol that you will be observing Lent.  During the 40 day period something is given up, anything typically important to the individual, and more time spent in prayer, worship and meditation.  Lent is about preparing ourselves spiritually to observe Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is one week before Easter, and celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to celebrate Passover.  The crowd shouted “Hosanna”, and waved palm branches.  Actual palm branches may be used in a Palm Sunday service, and those branches will be saved until next year, burned, and the ashes used during the Ash Wednesday service mentioned above.  The same Jews shouting “Hosanna” at Jesus’ entry would be shouting “Crucify him” just a few days later.

Good Friday

On Good Friday we remember that Jesus was crucified.  Some have argued that to spend three days in the grave, Jesus must have been crucified earlier in the week, but the Bible is pretty clear about the Sabbath approaching.  The legs of the crucified were being broken to speed things up, but prophecy was fulfilled when they reached Jesus and found him already dead.  The Sabbath would have began on Friday evening at 6 pm, so he must have died on Friday.  In the Jewish way of thinking, Jesus was dead Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Think about the words he rose on the third day, and he does not have to be in the grave a full 72 hours.  There is not a contradiction here.  His followers, including Nicodemus according to John’s gospel, placed him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.


In the true spirit of Holy Week, Easter celebrates the resurrection.  If a preacher wishes to deliver a moving sermon on the ghastly horrors of crucifixion, it should be done on either Palm Sunday or a Good Friday service.  Easter is not about the death of Jesus, it is about resurrection.  Easter celebrates the defeat of death, hell and the grave.  Jesus was not just resurrected; he is the resurrection.

p.s. What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras literally means Fat Tuesday.  During the weeks of Lent, something is given up or the individual fasts.  Often some sin or vice is done without during this time, such as consuming alcohol.  Fat Tuesday is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, and is a chance to get all the gluttony out of your system before getting serious about being good.  It’s one last blowout before Lent starts, when one must be chaste and sober.  Observing Mardi Gras without celebrating Lent is akin to trick-or-treating on Halloween without observing All Saints Day.  People that are ignorant of the traditions and customs use it as one more excuse to party.

5 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday, Lent, (and p.s. Mardi Gras)

  1. Pingback: Palm Sunday: Jesus’ Triumphal Entry « The Master’s Table

  2. Every year, New Orleans shuts down and throws the party of parties. Mardi Gras reflects and defines the cultural traditions of New Orleans and is spreading throughout the world fast. The city’s largest celebration, Mardi Gras, has been called “the greatest free show on Earth.” The first official New Orleans Mardi Gras began in 1837. The first day of the Carnival season is always January 6th (which is twelve days after Christmas). This is called the Twelfth Night (Kings Night) and marks the beginning of the private masked balls that are held until Mardi Gras Day. The Mardi Gras parades consist of floats holding the krewe members, who throw doubloons, beads and other items to the people lining the streets. Many “parade-goers” either wear a costume or purple, green and gold when attending the parades, and scream “Throw me somethin’ Mister!” to the krewe members on the floats. Marching bands and celebrities on floats are also included in the parades. Mardi Gras Day (Which is always Fat Tuesday) is the last and greatest day of the carnival season.

    Check out this study.


  3. Pingback: Ash Wednesday « The Master’s Table

  4. Matthew 12:40 (New International Version)
    “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

    Clark, I never had any trouble understanding that Jesus was in the tomb for “three days” even though it was only part of Friday and part of Sunday. But in the Matthew 12:40 passage above, the “three nights” seems to just be wrong. It’s not a big deal for me, but it is a little odd.

  5. While the Bible does not contradict itself, at first read there are some apparent contradictions. The most common problem with any reference to math is that we’re not Jewish. Jesus rose on the third day (Matt 16:21) which by our reckoning would not be three full days in the grave. Jesus was buried on Friday, in the grave all day Saturday, and resurrected on Sunday morning. By Jewish figuring, however, any part of those days constitutes one day.

    Another problem you may have run into is that the Hebrew system of numbering was finite; ours is infinite. When you encounter statements like “ten thousand times ten thousand” that simply means there was a far greater number than they could measure.

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