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Perspective on Lent and Easter
by Pastor Ken Parrish

The 45 day period leading up to Easter Sunday is known as the season of Lent. By not counting the six Sundays, Lent becomes a 40 day period of penitence and self denial, similar to the periods of fasting of both Moses and Jesus. The name is derived from several Anglo-Saxon and Germanic words meaning spring. This season has no roots in scripture, but is traced back to the church of the fourth century. Todayís observances are a far cry from the original intent of the season, which was a prolonged season of fasting and seeking the Lord.

Lent is preceded by "Shrove Tuesday", which is the day of receiving pardon in preparation for Lent. The French festival known as "Mardi Gras", or, "Fat Tuesday", is held on Shrove Tuesday, which is literally the last opportunity to indulge the lusts of the flesh and do all the things youíll be giving up for Lent, and thus reveals the hypocrisy of the season - i. e., "we canít do this for the next 40 days, so weíll have one last party then give up debauchery for Lent". Thus today's sacrifices of Lent are typically only temporary sacrifices of pleasure, a religious exercise of outward "good works" intended to appease God and earn His favor. But God says, "...to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22). You cannot earn by sacrifice what you lose through disobedience! God is not interested in our temporary self denial and good works of flesh, but rather calls us to deny ourselves everyday, taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23)! Godís desire is not self denial for a season but inward and eternal change by His Spirit.

The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. Itís name is derived from the tradition of the Priest taking ashes from the burned Palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday, blessing them, and using them to mark the believerís forehead with the sign of the cross. Some view this symbol as a sign of good luck. Wearing the ashes is akin to the Old Testament practice of mourning in "sackcloth and ashes", and is supposed to show sorrow for sinfulness. However, Jesus warned us concerning practicing our righteousness before men to be noticed by them (Mat. 6:1).

The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and begins with Palm Sunday, or, Passion Sunday, commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as onlookers waved Palm branches. Other observances of this week include Maundy Thursday, the supposed day of the last supper and arrest of Jesus, during which He gave the new commandment to love one another (maundy being the Latin word for mandate or command), and Good Friday, remembering the day when Jesus died in our place that we might be saved. The problem with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is that if Jesus really was arrested on Thursday, crucified on Friday, and raised on Sunday (the first day of the week), then He could not have been three days and nights in the "heart of the earth" as He said He would be (Mat. 12:40). More likely, Jesus was arrested on Wednesday and crucified on Thursday. The Sabbath that warranted the removal of His body from the cross was not the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) but the Sabbath of Passover (see John 19:14 &31) which evidently fell on Friday that year.

As with His birth, the resurrection of our Lord has become an opportunity for commercialism and materialism in our world today, and the true meaning of the season is becoming obscure. Actually, there is no record in the book of Acts of the church setting aside one day a year to celebrate the Lordís resurrection. His resurrection was celebrated every day! The custom of setting aside one day a year began in the fourth century, and apparently was an attempt to "Christianize" pagan festivals when Christianity became the State religion.

The word Easter is actually pagan in origin. The word only appears in one place in only one translation of the Bible, and that by mistranslation. In Acts 12:4, the King James Version translates the Greek word PASCHA as Easter, but itís literal translation is Passover, and it is thus translated in every other place in the New Testament and in every other translation. The word Easter is derived from the names of several pagan goddesses, among them Astarte, the Canaanite goddess of sensual love and fertility, also known as Ishtar by the Babylonians, and Ashtaroth (or Ashtoreth, Asherah), The Philistine goddess of fertility whose prophets Elijah confronted in 1 Kings 18:19. Understand, then, how eggs and rabbits became a part of our celebration of Easter. They are symbols of fertility that come straight out of pagan worship but have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity, Jesus Christ, or His resurrection.

While there is nothing "wrong" with celebrating Easter or Lent, we must remember that Christianity is not merely a religion comprised of religious observances, but rather an intimate, personal relationship with the living Son of God. As Christians today, we must be careful to guard our hearts, lest we, too, should become guilty of merely celebrating the seasons of "Lent" and "Easter" instead of the Person of Jesus Christ and His resurrection!

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