Today is Shrove Tuesday. Traditionally, it's the day to consume all the eggs and fat prohibited during Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
Charles Simeon, one of my favorite authors and pastors from years gone by, writes:
From the earliest period, even from the time that God first had a visible Church in the world, there have been particular seasons set apart for humiliation, and fasting, and prayer. In the Christian Church, the appointment of forty days at this part of the year (Lent) for that purpose is of great antiquity. The two days with which this season commenced were observed with peculiar solemnity: the one (Shrove Tuesday) was spent in recollecting and confessing their sins; the other (Ash Wednesday) in fasting and supplication.
That these institutions were carried to a very foolish excess, and that they degenerated into many absurd superstitions, under the reign of Popery, is readily acknowledged: but they were good in their origin; and our Church has wisely retained such a portion of them as might tend to the real edification of her members: and if we were more observant of them than we are, we should find substantial benefit to our souls.
But, alas! we have run into an opposite extreme, insomuch that not only the observances are laid aside, but the very intention of them is almost forgotten: and instead of complying with the design which is intimated in the names given to the days, we render them perfectly ridiculous, by substituting a trifling change in our food for the most solemn acts of devotion before God. (Horae Homileticae)
I find his comments helpful. Celebrating Lent is part of the Church's historic practice. It's been abused, and we've sometimes overreacted by laying aside Lent or trivializing it. But the celebration of this season is good in its origin, and could be of benefit to our souls.
A few years ago, Trevin Wax wrote this:
I know that Lent is not kept by most evangelicals, and that’s okay. There’s no Scripture passage forbidding it or advocating it, so whether one decides to prepare for Easter in this manner is left to one’s conscience. Still, while fasting during Lent may not mandated by Scripture, the discipline of fasting is. Jesus’ instructions on fasting presuppose and reinforce the discipline. (After all, He says, “When you fast,” not if.) It’s true that, as with any spiritual discipline, there can be a tendency towards excess and legalism. But as I look at American evangelicalism today, I hardly think that we are suffering from too much fasting.
This season serves as a time of reflection upon the sufferings of Christ. It is a season of repentance, a time of dying to self that anticipates new life on the other side, just like the last days of winter anticipate the arrival of Spring.
An old article in Christian History notes, "There seems to be potential for evangelicals to embrace the season again." For those who have more questions about Lent, and how to observe it, Mark D. Roberts has written a helpful introduction.
Lent is not a requirement for believers, but many find it helpful. I know I do. Tonight we will be eating pancakes for dinner. Beginning tomorrow I'm going to be marking Lent. I hope to attend an Ash Wednesday service tomorrow night.
My Shrove Tuesday Challenge: Will you consider observing Lent this year too?