“40 Days of Prayer”
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
~ (Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)
What do you think of when I say the words Mardi Gras? The mere mention of these two words usually convey thoughts of raucous celebrations, beads flying through the air, ear-to-ear grins plastered on the faces of millions of revelers, and of course floats parading through the streets of New Orleans!
While these associations are accurate, this is only taking into account a small portion of what Mardi Gras stands for and means to millions of people not just in the Bayous and Parishes of Louisiana, but across the world. Mardi Gras, which in French translates to Fat Tuesday, is officially the day before Ash Wednesday, and while you may know it as one of the biggest parties in the country… it is actually filled with a lot of religious significance.
While you may just see a jester in vibrant colors… you may not know that those three main colors of Mardi Gras have religious meaning. The Purple (represents Justice), Green (represents Faith), and Gold (represents Power). And it goes way beyond just aesthetic planning too. Roughly stated… the whole point behind Mardi Gras is that good Christians everywhere will soon be joining Christ on his 40 day walk into the desert. In today’s scripture, we read about how Jesus began his ministry. He retreated into the desert for 40 days to pray and fast to prepare for his ministry.
For him, it was a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, many people chose to join Jesus on this journey. While we don’t go off into a desert to fast and pray, it is a time for us to give something up… to sacrifice something… and to deprive ourselves. For us, it is also a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation… so that we can get into the proper mindset for Easter… and if we are going to have 40 days of depriving ourselves… then we are justified in getting all of the sinning out of the way on Fat Tuesday!
So brothers and sisters… Tuesday night… go out to the pizza place and pig out, stop by the Dairy Queen on your home and order something that costs 5 dollars, have a pile of Snickers bars for your midnight snack… because this Wednesday… is Ash Wednesday… and that is when we are supposed to give all that sort of thing up to suffer for our God.
Wednesday, our journey begins when people gather together for a worship service known as the imposition of ashes. Wednesday officially begins our time of 40 days preparing the way for Easter known as Lent.
It is a time of putting ourselves into the proper mindset… we NEED Jesus Christ. And we need to remember that we NEED Jesus Christ. It is because of our broken humanity that Jesus suffered and died. His resurrection awaiting us at Easter is the great redemption of mankind and restoration of our relationship with God.
To help put ourselves into the right mindset, we are called to give up something for Lent, and it is a practice that I personally find to be very worthwhile. Depriving ourselves of things we want can help us grasp a very small part of what it was like for Christ to suffer for us. As we “suffer” we are reminded of Christ’s suffering for us. (While it is unfair to fully compare our suffering over giving up TV, or candy, or meat to the suffering of Jesus at his crucifixion, it is still a very excellent way of preparing our minds for the glory awaiting us at Easter.) I highly encourage you to give something up this Lent as a way of preparing for Easter.
40 days of Lent
Jesus did something very interesting to mark his 40 days… he retreated to fast and to pray. I believe that we, as a deciple of Christ, need to learn a lesson from that and that we should mark these next 40 days… with 40 days of prayer. Jesus time and time again showed us the importance of prayer… and he shows it to us again today… prayer is important… and prayer is powerful.
It is like the story of a bus driver and a minister standing in line waiting to get into heaven. The bus driver approached the gate and St. Peter said, "Welcome, I understand you were a bus driver. Since I’m in charge of housing, I believe I have found the perfect place for you. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours. The minister heard all this and began to stand a little taller. He said to himself, "If a bus driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get."
The minister approached the gate and St. Peter said, "Welcome, I understand you were a minister. See that shack in the valley?" St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate minister said, "I was a minister, I preached the gospel, I helped teach people about God. Why does that bus driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?" Sadly St. Peter responded, "Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When the bus driver drove, people prayed."
Prayer is a powerful, powerful thing. I think we should dedicate ourselves to 40 days of prayer of this Lent. It’s time for us to recognize the power of prayer. It’s time for us to join together as Christians to pray for those dear to us… to petition our Father, to ask for intercession, and never give up.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? (Luke 18:1-7)Let us make ourselves annoyances with our prayers, that our words are heard continuously in the ears of wonderful and loving God. Let us become advocates for change with our prayers, let us follow the example of our Lord and take everything to our God in prayer.
The point of all of this is this… if we take our task of preparing for Lent seriously… I promise you that this Easter will have a very special meaning for you. You will see, with eyes never more clear… the glory that awaits you in the empty tomb. So please, join me this Lenten season in preparing for our Lord.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for it is from your goodness that we have this day to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.
Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat. Today we feast. We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us. We thank you especially for one another. As we give you thanks, we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do. As we share these wonderful gifts together, we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those who need our support.
Prepare us for tomorrow. Tasting the fullness of what we have today, let us experience some hunger tomorrow. May our fasting make us more alert and may it heighten our consciousness so that we might be ready to hear your Word and respond to your call.
As our feasting fills us with gratitude so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us a place for deeper desires and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor. May our self-denial turn our hearts to you and give us a new freedom for generous service to others.
We ask you these graces with our hearts full of delight and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead. We ask them with confidence in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.
Click HERE to find out more about how to have a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ
The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission.
What do you think of when I say the words Mardi Gras?