If Lent involves giving something up as a spiritual discipline, a way of personal sacrifice intended to spark spiritual growth, what comes before the season of fasting begins? Indulgence! If I give up coffee for Lent, or Chocolate or whatever, and Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, what about the Tuesday before? On that day, I can fill myself with whatever pleasure (or vice) I will be avoiding for the next 40 days.
This filling before fasting can get out of control. Mardis Gras is one example where heavy alcohol consumption leads to a variety of damaging behaviors. Popular sentiment might suppose I write this as an abstinence-minded Baptist pastor, and I can be tuned out because I am an out-of-touch prude. But, the how many unwanted pregnancies happen on Fat Tuesday, the result of people acting out of control. How many alcohol related fatalities occur? How many people, already alcoholics, binge-drink?
These things do not just happen in New Orleans. And the overconsumption is not only of alcohol. I was listening to a favorite radio show and one of the hosts was celebrating “Fat Tuesday” by seeing how many pancakes he could consume on air. He reached 20 by the show’s end. The problem is I doubt he will tomorrow begin the practice of spiritual disciplines in order to be drawn closer to Christ. I have listened to the show for years and I never hear of his efforts at growing in faith. He often celebrates sinful gluttony. He and his partner had a grand time with “Fat Tuesday” and no intention of entering into deeper faith practices on Ash Wednesday.
I am not opposed to feasting. We do it every time we celebrate communion. We take the bread and cup and after worship our church enjoys a fellowship meal. We are celebrating who we in Christ and that celebration includes a party with good food and drink. We are resurrection people. It would be wrong if we did not feast.
However, “Fat Tuesday” reduces celebration to the practice of vice (treated as raucous joy) prior to the drudgery of fasting and spiritual discipline (treated as something to be suffered). And I suspect, like the aforementioned radio show host, many people enjoy “Fat Tuesday” and ignore Ash Wednesday and Lent. Or, they go through the motions of Lent but their hearts are unchanged. They do not grow closer to the Lord.
If you want to live it up on “Fat Tuesday,” go for it. But please, do not think of “Fat Tuesday” as the fun before a lugubrious season of doldrums. Lent is Spring – Spring time for the soul. This is a season of rebirth in which we gain a newer, richer, deeper understanding of who we are in Christ. Nothing I eat or drink on Tuesday compares to the joy of intimacy in my relationship with Jesus. Fill myself with booze and steak and chocolate on Fat Tuesday? Please! I am going to confess, repent, go on mission, worship, pray, dive into scripture, seek Jesus in the eyes of people around me, and in all of this, I going to spend the next 40 days being filled by him.
Yes, there is a somber tone about Ash Wednesday. But a dim, inviting light is ever present; the light of Easter. We don’t go there, not to Easter, not just yet. But even the repentance and confession of Lent that we do, we do as Easter people. Keep Fat Tuesday; it is nothing special to me. Give me Jesus. I don’t mean to sound like a simplistic, homey preacher boy. But give me Jesus. Being filled by Him; that is what I crave.