When I was a kid, there was Easter. I don't remember much about the weeks that led up to it, except that it seemed to take a darn long time to come. In high school I knew about Lent because one of my best friends was Catholic and always gave up candy for forty days. When we asked why she replied, "Because the church says so and my mother hates me." But I did learn from her that Lent came after Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. With the premiere of "COPS", I learned more about Fat Tuesday than any one person needed to know. You went to a decadent town, drank yourself stupid, and showed off what your momma gave you in pursuit of some cheap trinkets. Yee-haw.
Fast-forward to 2009. It's Monday, and the kids and I are talking about going to the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at the church the next night. But Momma, they ask, what does "Shrove Tuesday" mean? and do they call it Fat Tuesday because you get fat from eating pancakes? and why do we eat pancakes? and why do they call it Lent, anyway?
Questions, questions. And all Momma's got to fall back on is COPS. Never fear...it's Google to the rescue!
We always go to the Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, but this is the first year the kids have asked questions about it. After a little research we found that traditionally pancakes were made to use up the eggs, milk products and fats that would have otherwise gone bad during the forty days of Lent. "Oh, that's why they call it Fat Tuesday, not because you GET fat!" Sure, sure. I always seem to be a bit larger after the pancake dinner, but that's neither here nor there...
And then there was the discussion of Lenten sacrifice. I explained that it is a time to practice self-discipline by giving up something you really like, or trying to stop a bad habit. If you give up buying a latte every day, for example, you might put the money you save in a special bank and on Easter donate it to a food bank or other charity for the poor. Or you might stop talking about people behind their back, or.. "I know! I know! You could stop picking your nose and wiping it on your pants 'cause that's gross!" Yes, that could be a very fine Lenten promise. (Note to self: check children's pants for bogies before throwing in wash..)
Now, on Sunday you may indulge in a latte, or chocolate, or some T.V. time (depending what you have given up) because it is a feast day. Just be moderate and no, if you have pledged to give up using vulgar language or kicking the dog you may NOT do that on Sundays! (Am I raising lawyers here? Always looking for the loopholes..) And of course if you are giving up something it must be something you like in the first place. "Yeah, because if you gave up brussel sprouts or okra it'd be CHEATING because that's gross stuff anyway! And I bet most of my class would want to give up homework because they never turn it in on time anyway."
At the end of Lent is Holy Week. We have Maundy Thursday, remember kids, where we talk about the last supper and eat with everyone. And then Good Friday... "Is that Easter?" No, that's the day of the crucifixion. "That doesn't sound so great to me, why do they call it GOOD Friday?" "Yeah, I think they should have called it BAD Friday instead!" (Oh, my head...I'd better not give up Tylenol for Lent..) O.K., I think we're ready.
After the fun Tuesday evening at the pancake supper we attended the Ash Wednesday service. It would be their first time to go; we wanted to be sure they were old enough to understand the service and ceremony. I hadn't talked much about this, other than to say there would be songs, prayers and communion, and Pastor would make a mark on their foreheads with ash. In we went, and it was a little disconcerting to find there were no other children.
After they had been marked with the ash, they sat close to me and listened to the meditation. I worried it might be over their heads, but as Pastor spoke about how the ash was like God's fingerprint on each of us, marking us as His own, I saw Jones smile and touch his forehead.
Some of what they will learn over the next forty days may be a bit out of reach, and some may not make full sense to them at this time in their lives, but I hope they will find meaning in these old traditions. There must be more to this season than shiny beads and jellybeans.
13 hours ago