Never heard of Fat Tuesday? Well, you probably have heard of Mardi Gras, Carnival, possibly even Pancake Tuesday. (OK, I never heard of that one, either.) This holiday is an opportunity for people to purge their human and hedonistic desires so that when the Lenten season comes they can be penitent.
In the Protestant context, historically we do not make a big deal about Lent because our theology calls us to maintain an ordered life that focuses on the divine every day while struggling with the realities of living and working in the Mundane World. However, over the past few decades, many in the Protestant traditions have come to embrace the Lenten disciplines because we have fallen into patterns where we no longer hold that discipline in our daily lives and need times to refocus and center ourselves back into an orderly faith.
Lent, in the early church, began with what is called Quadragesima Sunday or the Sunday six weeks before Easter, but by the 7th century Lent expanded to Ash Wednesday to make it last 40 days. Forty is one of those special numbers, typically connected with penance and fasts. Jesus was tempted for 40 days (Matthew 4:2) and there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). In the Hebrew texts, 40 days of “something” often preceded major events, for instance the Great Flood and the covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:5 - 9:17). I could go on, but for Lent and us, it is a 40-day journey to prepare us to understand the Resurrection in new and powerful ways.
Historically this time was observed in various ways, from all-out fasts to refraining from rich food and libations. However, today, when many think of Lent, they equate it to refraining from meat on Fridays and giving up a mundane vice. The problem, of course, with the current observance is the same as why we Protestants began to embrace Lent in the modern era—it becomes a faith of convenience and not a daily discipline.
This is important because if you want to experience the full witness of Christ at the Resurrection, reconnecting with God is crucial. So, creating a daily discipline that keeps God in focus is more important than anything else. The best thing to do is to start with something that is difficult but not impossible.
For some, this means setting aside three times a day to pray, for others trying to read the whole Bible in forty days. Maybe volunteering at a social service agency or spending time in prayer while walking in nature might be your discipline. Whatever is out of the ordinary and helps you to think and connect with God is good!
Granted, there is nothing wrong with people who follow a true fasting and prayer ritual, but it is important to remember that the purpose is not to prove how spiritual or connected you are, nor is it to show others how you are suffering. That would be about you and not God. Rather, this is a time that you are called to focused on reconnecting with God and whatever discipline allows that to happen for you is a great discipline to follow.
So happy Fat Tuesday! Take time today to connect with your humanity and all of the things that are mundane in your life and begin to think of what your Lenten discipline will be. How will you connect with God? How will you challenge your discipline and change your life?
 a theological term referring to things of this world
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen