Since today begins the forty days of Lent, allow me to explain how you start with Mardi Gras, a decadent, costumed feast and blowout, including robes and beads and shiny crowns, and end up a month and a half later with a you-gave-up-booze-for-forty-days-so-now-you-can-wear-your-white-shoes-again church service called Easter.
And what the hell Lent has to do with all this, anyway.
(Good readers, I wrote this a few years ago, but since my early posts are tucked away in an alternative cyber universe at the moment, I dug this out of my files and polished it up for you, today being the beginning of Lent and me being all about clarifying complicated shit. For those who’ve seen this before, I appreciate you indulging me for posting a re-run.)
First, we party
Shrove Tuesday, also known as pancake night to many churchgoers, and otherwise known as Mardi Gras (which is French for “fat Tuesday”), is the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the day that Jesus set out for the desert and then spent forty days out there trying to get the devil, who had followed him out there, off his back.
People eat a lot of pancakes and party excessively the day before Lent because there’s about to be a fairly dry spell coming up in church where you have to say I’m sorry a lot until Jesus and the Easter Bunny show up a month and a half later.
This draggy period of time is known as Lent.
Hangover or not, things are about to get serious
Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent with church services where the priest or whoever’s in charge dips their thumb in a little pot of ashes and makes a little cross, which actually just looks more like a smudge, on your forehead with the ashes while saying- just like in the 70s song by Kansas, “From dust you’ve come and to dust you shall return.”
This is designed to humble your ass and give you something to think about for these next forty days.
Lent is when people give up things like cursing and Thin Mints in order to show solidarity with Jesus having to put up with the world’s original asshole, formally known as Satan, bugging the crap out of him while he was just trying to get some peace and quiet away from his busy life as the Messiah.
The forty days in the desert with the devil had Jesus rolling his eyes and saying things like, “Man shalt not live by bread alone” and “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” because the devil was trying to get Jesus to switch teams by offering him mansions and a billion dollars and stuff, and taunting him about being the Son of God, hoping that finally, Jesus would see what fun he could be having instead of that stressful job of being the Messiah, and would red rover, red rover on over to the dark side.
Eventually though, just like in The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Satan lost and went back home to Hell.
It was like a working vacation out there for Jesus
Jesus put down his fiddle and got on a donkey, sometimes referred to as an ass, which he rode into town for a little one man parade while people waved palms over his head and made a big commotion about him being the King of the Jews. The Jews had been waiting a long time for the Messiah, so they had a fair amount of emotion invested in this guy.
This was Palm Sunday.
But it turned out to be a bad week since the good ol’ boys were fairly well threatened by Jesus going around claiming to be the Messiah that the prophets had been predicting for hundreds of years. By this time, Jesus had amassed a lot of groupies and was bucking the system something fierce by calling out the good ol’ boys a lot and hanging out with poor folks and women.
The good ol’ boys had reached their limit and put a price on Jesus’ head.
Really, really tough week ahead
This bad week, now called Holy Week, was when Jesus became a wanted man, so now Jesus and his buddies, the twelve disciples, had to sneak around.
On Thursday, they got together for dinner, which is now called the Last Supper and which some churches call Maundy Thursday, where Jesus and the guys got together with a loaf of bread and some wine.
Or grape juice, depending on which church you go to.
This is when Jesus started the “body and blood” thing since he pretty much knew what was about to happen and he wanted something for people to remember him by.
It was on this night that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, something that servants did for important people back then because people wore sandals everywhere and their feet got plenty dirty. The disciples told Jesus that he shouldn’t be washing their feet but that it should be the other way around.
This was when the now-popular “leader as servant” trend began.
This is also the night when Jesus said that one of his twelve friends would betray him, casting a pall over the night, which was already going nowhere fast because the disciples couldn’t see the big picture in all of this, even though Jesus had spelled it out for them time and time again.
Sure enough, Judas, probably exactly as seen in the all the movie versions of the story, received a handful of cash from the cops and in turn, conveniently had Jesus right there with him.
Then things went from bad to worse
By Friday, the cops were beating Jesus and rolling dice to divvy up his clothes.
They then stood him in front of a huge crowd while the bossman, Pontius Pilate, tried to figure out what to do with him because it seemed to Pontius Pilate that while Jesus may be a little nuts, he was not an actual criminal.
But the crowd got in an unreasonable frenzy because crowds do that, and they yelled for Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus, which is what they did back then for the death penalty. Pontius Pilate didn’t feel right about it so he said he’d washed his hands of the whole thing.
But even so, the crowd was in that frenzy and Pontius Pilate was at their mercy.
Jesus had to carry his own cross—which is why we sometimes say we have a cross to bear, to the “Place of the Skull” where they did all the death sentences in that town.
It was a grueling walk and Jesus fell a couple of times from already having been beaten down pretty bad. His mom and his women friends, possibly even the lovely Mary Magdalene, gave him water and helped him along as best they could.
Talk about depressing
Then Jesus was taken away from his mother and his friends and thrown down onto the cross while the guys in charge nailed him to it and then hoisted it up. They must have put a pretty good-sized hole in the ground with a post hole digger in order to make this work.
It was a slow and awful process to die on a cross and at this point Jesus was pretty disappointed in God and said so out loud. The King James version of the Bible goes like this, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” but, just like when he was talking to the devil, Jesus actually spoke in his own language, not seventeenth century English.
Jesus’ mom and his friends were all around him and the women were crying and wailing. At around 3 pm he died, and it was said that the sky went black and that the curtain at the altar in the town church tore itself in two.
This was a sign that Jesus had rocked the world.
At some point, Judas realized that things had all gone terribly wrong and he went and hung himself.
This day, oddly, is known as Good Friday.
It was beginning to look like they’d bet on the wrong guy
The women took Jesus’ body and wrapped it up like a mummy and put all kinds of oils on it, which is what they did to bodies then, and the body was taken to a tomb which was then closed off with a boulder and had guards in front of it to insure that Jesus’ fan club wouldn’t come and steal the body and claim that Jesus had risen from the dead like he kept saying he would.
The next day, Saturday, which is now called Holy Saturday, was a really hard day for Jesus’ peeps.
Nothing had worked out the way they thought it would. Everything was ruined. They prayed all day and night, which church people now do on Holy Saturday and call it the Great Easter Vigil.
The next day when the women showed up at the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body, the guards were gone, the boulder had been rolled away, and the body was gone.
On second thought…
Then an angel came—of course—and told the women that Jesus wasn’t there, which they could plainly see, and that he had indeed risen from the dead.
So the women went to get the guys to tell them what had happened.
On the way, someone came out of nowhere and started walking along with them, asking them what was up. They were jazzed up from finding the tomb empty and then talking to the angel about it and told him the whole story before they realized that it was Jesus himself walking with them.
This was the first of a series of surprise appearances Jesus would make over the next few weeks.
Bringing it home
Jesus not dying after all happened on the day we call Easter, which conveniently for us, could possibly have occurred on a Sunday.
And what a lil’ ol’ bunny has to do with all this, is that Easter coincided with the arrival of spring and the people back then were really into the seasons changing and celebrated spring with things like eggs and bunnies and other symbols of fertility (bunnies… get it??), which was a big deal then.
And new birth, as in spring flowers and baby bunnies, tied in very nicely with the resurrection theme that Jesus popularized when he rose from the dead and started Easter.
So voilà, I give you the Easter Bunny.
So which is better—Easter or Christmas?
See, Easter is the biggest thing in the church year because of Jesus whooping up on the devil and rising from the dead and all.
But as we all know, Christmas gets more press and has better shopping. But in Easter’s defense, Easter does include a lot of chocolate and usually a ham.
And by golly, there’s something to be said for chocolates and a ham.
And for finally getting to wear white again.
And for Easter Bunnies and Jesus rising from the dead, too, of course.