By John Larkins
The season of Lent begins this week for many Christians. Few people have any clue as to why Mardi Gras is celebrated. When they learn that the event is linked to the 40-day period in the Bible that relates Jesus’s period of trial in the desert, the explanation really gets foggy. To understand the joyous and perhaps raucous and events of Fat Tuesday, you must consider the next day, Ash Wednesday, which is when Lent begins.
It is human nature to seek enjoyment prior to a time of somber reflection, including fasting from food and abstinence from meat. On Ash Wednesday, many Christians attend Mass service, during which the priest applies ashes to one’s forehead in the form of a cross from the burnt remains of palm fronds used on the day celebrating Christ’s heroic welcome into Jerusalem. This is a public acknowledgement of the serious nature of Christ’s ordeal in the wilderness. Before the proliferation of man-made churches, Ash Wednesday was practiced in many nations and persists even now, where not all people know exactly what is being recognized.
Jesus Christ introduced several revolutionary new gifts in His new Church, the most obvious being the founding of the physical and visible institution of His apostles/priests. These men were organized to be an everlasting presence on Earth, proliferating into an international force to convert all nations from whatever form of sacred worship they used to His one Church. Jesus Himself promised He would reside in the institution forever. Jesus revitalized the law for all humans to obey, bringing forward the Ten Commandments that His Father had given Moses a thousand years earlier.
Christ’s admonition of, “If you love me, you will follow my commandments,” also included refocusing on God’s law. It did not include all the many additions that had been added to the rules in the intervening time. This basic body of law carried with it the possible punishment of eternal damnation for those who decided that they were above the law.
Unfortunately, that description of “they were above the law” describes all of us humans at one time or another. Jesus established the sacrament of baptism to mark the necessary and public sign that a person submitted themselves to God’s authority. Simultaneously, all existing sins were forgiven. That was the good news. The bad news is that any subsequent sins could lead to eternal damnation.
So, what to do? Jesus, being God, knew exactly what to do. He empowered His apostles and subsequent generations of apostles to forgive sins in Christ’s name, while not forgiving those sins that were not accompanied by repentance on the part of the sinner. Jesus established several means by which we can receive His saving grace to achieve our salvation, such as, and most importantly, Holy Communion. He said, “If you do not drink my blood and eat my body, you have no life within you.” Thus, He crafted the perfect Church (what did you expect?).
Matthew 28:18-20 says, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, all power on heaven and Earth is given to me, go ye, therefore.” Why do you think Jesus said it that way? Was it not because He was their mentor and that now He was giving them a portion of HIS power to carry out His mission on Earth, since He was going back to His Father?
Jesus’ Church is still in business, just as He said it would be!
For the past 15 years, John Larkins has evangelized on the street, door-to-door, in tent revivals and in church situations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.