February 23, 2022
Rend Your Hearts and Not Your Garments
Unless you have been there it is probably worse than you can imagine. I am speaking of the Mardi Gras. From the distant perspective of Montana, Mardi Gras may seem like a harmless annual Gulf Coast carnival. There is more to the Mardi Gras than beads, and parades and marching jazz bands. The term “Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday.” It is a reference to the Tuesday before the season of Lent begins. Ash Wednesday is March 2 this year.
Lent, a forty day, (excluding Sundays), preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, is a creation of the Church. The days of Lent are to be a time of repentance and focus on all that our Lord suffered for us as He earned our salvation. As the traditions of the Church developed, the season of Lent became a time of privation. Believers are encouraged to fast and pray. Many give up a certain kind of food during the season. The intent of this type of fasting is to focus our attention on the need for repentance.
Forty days of repentance is a long time! For some it seemed so unbearable that they decided to throw a big party immediately prior to the beginning of Lent. Thus, “Fat Tuesday,” or Mardi Gras was born. “Today the party, tomorrow the penance,” seems to be the general idea of Mardi Gras. This attitude of excess belies any real sense of repentance.
The Old Testament prophet Joel speaks to the crafty ways by which we seek to avoid, or perhaps even mock, the call to repentance. “Rend your hearts and not your garments,” he cries. (Joel 2:13) It seems the people of his day had their own type of Mardi Gras. They had satisfied themselves with the outward trappings of repentance. They would stand in public and tear their clothes as a way of demonstrating the grief they had over sin. The rending of their garments was a symbol of repentance, but God saw their hearts remained firmly planted in their sin.
What type of Mardi Gras have you invented for yourself? Has the season of Lent, or any form of repentance for that matter, become nothing more than outward trappings? Is your heart broken and contrite in repentance or does the excess of Fat Tuesday slop over into Ash Wednesday? How easily we fall into the trap of rending our garments but not our hearts.
Thanks be to God that there was no Fat Tuesday for Jesus. He did not allow Himself the luxury of a pre-penance party. His every day was a sacrifice of obedience to the will of God. His was no outward act, no pretense, and no attempt to rend His garments. Jesus not only sacrificed the obedience of His life, He even sacrificed His heart. Though His heart was pure, He took the impurity, the sin, of our hearts into His own. His broken and contrite heart stopped beating because of that gruesome burden.
Praise God, Lent does not last forever. The Day of Resurrection comes! God raised Jesus. He brought new life into that sacrificial heart, and through faith in Him brings new life into our hearts as well. Only when our hearts are rent, killed by His law, can they be raised again by the Gospel. Here is life, in Jesus. It cannot be found in our Fat Tuesdays. It cannot even be found in any of our outward signs of repentance. The true focus of Lent, the true source of life is Jesus.
Pastor Terry Forke
St. Paul Lutheran Church