Winter Olympics, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday


Lots of stuff going on this week!

The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games began a week ago. Incredible displays of power, grace, endurance, speed, and daring athleticism! If you’re interested, Google “Olympic Trivia” and read some interesting history of the event. One factoid is that athletes in contemporary Olympics do not compete in the nude, as was the ancient tradition. Imagine the frostbite!

The Olympic Creed reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

It’s reported that 92 nations are officially represented at this year’s Olympics. Terry and I are blessed to have visited nearly half those countries in our travels on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Great memories of wonderful Christian leaders and friends!

How notable and sad that the collegiality and fraternalism existing in athletic competition and international ecclesiastical circles are not always present in global political relationships.

In addition to Olympics, this week we also observed Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring an early saint named Valentinus. Legend has it that he was imprisoned in Rome for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. Today it’s a day to express love and affection. Hallmark sells lots of expensive cards!

It’s ironic for Ash Wednesday to be observed this year on Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a 40 day season of prayer, repentance, and fasting to recall the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert. It’s especially a remembrance of the suffering of Christ prior to his crucifixion, the ultimate sacrifice for those he loved. The six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are considered Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.

The vastly different but at least somewhat similar objectives of Winter Olympics, Valentine’s Day, and Ash Wednesday are cause for prayer for peaceful coexistence among nations, remembrance of a saint who served, and thanksgiving for the God made flesh who saves.


The Great Escape

The Great Escape

That’s one of my favorite movies. Based on a true story, a group of allied prisoners-of-war (POWs) are put in an “escape proof” camp. Yet the prisoners outwit their jailers, dig an escape tunnel, and use motorcycles, boats, trains and planes to get out of occupied Europe.

One week ago yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I preached on a different great escape at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, Terry’s and my church home. The text was Luke 22:1-13. Those few verses describe seemingly unrelated things going on at that time in Jesus’ life.

While the Feast of Unleavened Bread, aka Passover, was approaching, leaders of the church were plotting Jesus’ death with the help of a man named Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus.

Luke simply interjects at that point that Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the Passover feast. When asked where they should do so, Jesus gave them a few clues. In the city, a man carrying a water jar would show them a house. The master of the house would show them a large furnished upper room. That’s where the Passover was to be prepared.

Luke doesn’t say what preparations the disciples were to make. Yet we know that Passover observances always replicated the original Passover meal, including unleavened bread, roasted lamb and bitter herbs. Although wine was not specifically mentioned in the original Passover instructions, wine was present when Jesus celebrated this Passover with his disciples.

The night of the original Passover, the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Israelites who had painted blood on their front doorposts. The blood came from the lambs they had prepared for the final meal they would eat in Egypt before leaving that country in the Exodus.

The angel passed over Israelite homes for the purpose of sparing God’s chosen people from the devastating impact of the last of the ten plagues that God through his servant Moses had inflicted upon the Egyptians. That final plague was the death of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family and also the death of the firstborn of all cattle throughout the land of Egypt.

The annual Passover commemorated the Exodus of the people of Israel from 430 years of Egyptian slavery, a reflection on how God saved his people as they left Egypt. That included crossing the Red Sea and surviving 40 more years of wandering in the Wilderness of Sinai before entering the Promised Land, the Holy Land of Palestine. It was truly a great escape!

Next time you receive Holy Communion, instituted by Jesus during this Passover meal, remember that God has rescued his people through the ages, not from physical incarceration but from the spiritual imprisonment of sin and death. Jesus did not escape the plot of those church leaders, but that was part of God’s plan that leads to eternal freedom! Praise God for that great escape!

Feasting and Fasting

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, aka “Fat” Tuesday. An article from  does a good job of hitting the highlights helpful to an understanding of the contrast between pre-Lenten feasting and Lenten fasting. Here are a few excerpts:

Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the “last hurrah” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That’s why the enormous party in New Orleans ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with street sweepers promptly pushing crowds out of the French Quarter.

What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival. Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh.” As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.

The Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings’ Day and, in the Eastern churches, Theophany. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.

Epiphany is also traditionally when celebrants serve King’s Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake. The recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party.

There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best-known celebration in the U.S. is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.

Eventually the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties, until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827. The official colors of Mardi Gras, with their roots in Catholicism, were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.

Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive,” or hear confessions), Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins.

We Lutheran Christians don’t normally make a big deal of Fat Tuesday, choosing instead to focus on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, some Christians “give up” something of value during the Lenten season, signifying a denial of worldly pleasures in favor of a spiritual emphasis on the suffering and death of Christ on Calvary’s cross. Some choose to observe Lent with periods of fasting to focus on Christ’s sacrifice for the world.

The “ash” of Ash Wednesday refers to the long standing custom of the imposition of ashes on the forehead of Christian worshipers that day, in the sign of a cross. The ashes often come from the burning of palm leaves used by worshipers on Palm Sunday.

Hopefully these details will add to your appreciation of the significance of Lent, including the transition from pre-Lenten feasting to Lenten fasting. It’s a spiritually significant time of year!