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Lent begins on March 1, 2017.
As Christians, we have the freedom to choose whether to observe this season of penitence in preparation for Easter.
Below are a few of my past posts on Lent.
Until the Reformation, Lenten spiritual disciplines were widely observed:
These included fasting, which has changed considerably over the past 50 years. Fasting is biblical as long as we accompany it with regular prayer:
Here are a few reflections on and ideas for Lent to make it a spiritually-enriched 40 days:
The point of Lent is to bring us closer to Jesus and God the Father. Ideally, we should want to continue these devotions afterwards, as part of sanctification.
If we are making other people miserable in the process, then we need to take a step back and correct ourselves or try something different.
Have a grace-filled, prayerful Lent.
This year, Shrove Tuesday falls on February 28.
As I wrote in 2016, various traditions involving food and merriment take place on this day, because Lent begins 24 hours later:
Nearly all European countries mark Shrove Tuesday with a special food item or fat-laden feast, a final opportunity for enjoyment before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
These customs are centuries old and spread to other countries around the world with European exploration and settlement.
The Reformation could not put paid to old pre-Lenten customs which live on today. The British and many Commonwealth nations still call Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day. In Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, people enjoy semla, a sweet bun filled with frangipane and topped with whipped cream. People in Iceland celebrate Bursting Day by eating salted meat and peas.
Many countries celebrate Carnival or hold other ancient festivities on Shrove Tuesday.
In Britain, a number of towns in Britain hold pancake races, which date back to the 15th century …
Regarding pancake races, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Pancake Day in much of the UK. Our pancakes are crêpes, although American pancakes are becoming more popular.
Christians observing Lent have it relatively easy today. Centuries ago, many foods — not just meat — were forbidden during this time of fasting and penitence. The BBC page on Lent states that fish, fats, eggs, and dairy products were also off the menu. Therefore:
So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off.
The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.
Beginners who would like to make crepes might find the following recipes of interest:
Top tips for foolproof crêpes (base recipe can also be done for savoury)
Fisheaters has a pancake recipe, too, along with recipes for Dutch Baby baked pancakes and Polish Pazcki, jam-filled donuts.
It is possible to enjoy Shrove Tuesday in a Christian way. It is unfortunate that it is uniquely associated with the revelry of Mardi Gras parades, which get so much publicity.
Why not take this time to have a fun, food-oriented celebration with family and friends?
During the Middle Ages, good Christians were expected to prepare for Lent after the Church season of Epiphany ended.
This tradition lasted until the mid-20th century in the Catholic Church. Vatican II put paid to it. However, some Anglican and Lutheran congregations also recognised Shrovetide.
Shrovetide begins on Septuagesima Sunday and comprises Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday (commonly called Shrove Sunday). My post, ‘The Sundays before Lent’ explains what each of these ancient names mean and what they signified in terms of spiritual disciplines. In brief, they mark the days before Easter: 70, 60 and 50, respectively. Centuries ago, some Christians began Lenten fasting the day after Septuagesima Sunday.
The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive‘, an archaic verb meaning:
Present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.
The Sundays of Shrovetide provided a Latin-language based countdown to Easter. You can read more about both in my posts from 2016 and 2010, respectively:
The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)
Our forebears had a much better focus on personal piety than most of us today. Perhaps it is time for those of us abiding by the Church calendar make more use of older traditions, which also have a biblical basis with regard to sanctification.
These spiritual disciplines are not mere ‘works’. Exercised properly, they can help us to bear better fruits of faith.
The Anheuser-Busch commercial for the Superbowl this year, scheduled to air on February 5, has kicked up a storm and is viewed by a number of Americans as pro-immigration advertising.
It comes a week after President Donald Trump initiated a 90-day immigration ban on seven countries which have majority Muslim populations. These selected countries lack the means for sufficient background checks on their own citizens. (More about this in a future post.)
See if you think this is political commentary:
I have two problems with it. First, by the time Adolphus Busch arrived in the United States in 1857, Germans had been emigrating there for a century, at least. They were well established in society. Secondly, it was unclear to me that the final scene was the famous ‘when Anheuser met Busch’ moment. I thought he was a random guy in a bar until I saw a YouTube from Mark Dice explaining it in the first minute or so:
Budweiser, owned by InBev — a Belgian corporation — denies it is commenting on Trump policy or an anti-immigration climate.
However, I cannot help but wonder if Adolphus Busch would have wanted to be portrayed in that way. Most immigrants wanted to assimilate straightaway. They were not going to dwell on the voyage over, their processing time at Ellis Island or their early years getting established. Everything was about becoming an American.
If you doubt this, then, please be aware that his Wikipedia entry states (emphases mine):
His wealthy family ran a wholesale business of winery and brewery supplies. Busch and his brothers all received quality educations, and he graduated from the notable Collegiate Institute of Belgium in Brussels.
Another German immigrant came to America in the 19th century. His name was Friedrich Trump, pictured at left (courtesy of Wikipedia). He was a Lutheran and came from Kallstadt in Bavaria. He managed to make a fortune within three years. He went everywhere, from New York to the Yukon. Nary a complaint. Even the most recent Channel 4 documentary by anti-Trump Matt Frei on his grandson — shown in late January 2017 — painted Friedrich as a clever, enterprising businessman. That makes me think Adolphus Busch was of the same entrepreneurial mindset.
You didn’t go to the US as a victim then, that’s for sure.
Incidentally, Friedrich returned to Kallstadt after three years only to go through a series of legal hurdles regarding his German nationality! He found out it had been revoked, possibly because he went to the US around the time he was to do his military service. So, back to America he went and the rest is history. According to Matt Frei’s documentary, Friedrich quietly enjoyed his life a lot but died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. His widow, Elizabeth — also from Kallstadt — set up a real estate company for her middle son Fred, the president’s father. It was called Elizabeth Trump & Son. Fred was still a minor at the time, even though he was precocious enough to follow in his father’s footsteps and get small houses built.
I recommend that we need to watch these adverts with a gimlet eye and research the immigrant mindset of the 19th and early 20th centuries, very much oriented to assimilating into American society — as future Americans.
The Feast of the Epiphany takes place on January 6 every year.
It was the one event where Jesus was paid great tribute by great men, Gentiles from faraway lands who did not know Him. This signifies that He came for all people, not just for the twelve tribes of Israel.
It took the Magi many months crossing difficult terrain to reach the Christ Child.
The liturgical season of Epiphany in 2017 runs from this day through to Transfiguration Sunday on February 26. Ash Wednesday follows on March 1 this year and marks the beginning of Lent.
The Lectionary reading and Psalm from the Old Testament for Epiphany prophesied of Jesus Christ and of rulers from far away nations who would pay Him homage, bearing gifts:
60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
I wrote about the Epistle and Gospel for this feast day last year. The readings are the same every year, so do not be dissuaded by seeing Year C in the title:
Epiphany — Epistle (Ephesians 3:1-12)
Epiphany — Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12)
Other helpful past posts on this feast day are below:
New Year’s Day was traditionally the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.
The stained glass representation of the event is probably one of a kind. I don’t know the name or location of the church.
The Circumcision represents the first shedding of our Lord’s blood for mankind. Read more about it below in my post from 2010:
My post from 2013 explains that the traditional Protestant denominations recognised this day, along with the Catholic Church:
Today, it is largely ignored — or rededicated, which is what the Catholics did:
In the midst of our celebrations with families and friends, let us remember that New Year’s Day is also
May everyone reading this enjoy a very happy Christmas!
The painting above dates from 1622. It is called Adoration of the Shepherds. Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.
You can find out more in the following post:
Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)
For more on John 1, see:
Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)
Lutherans might appreciate these posts:
These are also helpful:
The_Donald‘s contributors have been discussing our Lord Jesus in some of their posts. This year, a few of them have rediscovered Christianity. In this post (sadly, language alert), someone cited Isaiah 53:1-6:
53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men,
a man of sorrows[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
In the midst of our celebrations, may we always remember and be ever grateful for the one sufficient sacrifice our Lord made for us.
Let us pray that more people will come to Christ this year. I was moved by what The_Donald’s posters had to say. Here are five separate comments, the last of which is the Roman Catholic Grace:
Cold Case Christianity. Powerful stuff from a life long atheist and veteran homicide detective. Powerful evidence of Christ. I used to be hardcore atheist and specifically anti-theist. I couldn’t deny the evidence presented. And ultimately – what if someone is wrong about believing in God (for real) – worst case scenario you become a better person. Worst case scenario for atheism is way worse. That was only a small step on an ongoing walk but it spoke to me.
It’s really sad that someone who only desired the best in people would make people angry. He led such a life of self-sacrifice, that I desire my character to be like His.
And if God be for us, who can stand against?
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts for which we are about to receive. And from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, amen.
A new book, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper, has hit the shelves.
The book focusses on Luther’s inner life rather than a history of the Reformation. It might also cast light on little-known details of his life:
Luther — Luder — was born in Eisleben in northern Germany in 1483, and grew up under the shadow of the Counts of Mansfeld’s castles in the small mining town of the same name. In later life he would always insist on his impeccable peasant origins, but his father was a mining inspector and prominent smelting master and it was in a smoky, slagheap-filled town on the edge of the civilised world that the young Martin grew up.
Crane explains Roper’s perspective that a harsh environment affected Luther’s personality accordingly:
the ugly, precarious and divided world … helped shape Luther’s passionate, authoritarian, unforgiving, coarsely physical nature …
Even though Luther remained loyal to his childhood home, there can have been little about it that gave him a very elevated sense of man’s goodness …
It was a natural progression from this environment to the Augustinian religious order, noted then for a particularly austere theology and practice. Incidentally, Luther’s father was firmly opposed to his son entering the monastic life.
Luther was not a man to do things by halves and he made a forensic study of Augustine, Scripture and the corrupt practices of the Church, when, one day:
the idea of justification by faith alone ‘struck him like a thunderbolt’
if man could be saved by faith alone and all good works were intrinsically sinful, then the whole penitential edifice of the medieval church … w[as] all so much rubble.
Luther was a polemicist, passionately forming and forcefully arguing his positions against his fellow Reformers.
Roper also includes some anti-Semitic quotes from Luther. The one in the review is extremely foul and graphic.
Crane does not say if she explains why the first Reformer was anti-Semitic and if that perspective changed.
Speaking personally, Luther’s position against the Jewish people is something that is explored too little; even my own research has not uncovered any decent explanation. I read anecdotally (i.e. reader’s comment) somewhere a few years ago that Luther rather expected the Jews to follow him in railing against the social and political dominance of a corrupt Church. When they did not, he turned against them.
Crane says that Roper does a good job of showing the reader Luther’s contradictions without trying to make sense of them or tie them neatly together:
Not, as Lyndal Roper mildly notes, an easy hero.
Although Crane’s review does not mention this, readers should know that Roper is an Australian academic who was educated at Oxford, taught there and has written several ‘groundbreaking works’ on witchcraft.
She has a deep interest in Germany. Perhaps this is because her husband, Nicholas Stargardt, a Professor of History at Oxford University, is of German-Jewish descent on his father’s side and Australian on his mother’s. His books concern Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1989, Roper’s book, The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg was published. Wikipedia provides this succinct and helpful summary:
Claims that the Reformation significantly worsened the situation of European women. review in History Today
It will be interesting to see what other reviews say. My Lutheran readers are particularly welcome to comment below.
In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.
One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:
to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.
However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:
The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.
The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.
Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.
“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.
Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:
even if they are illegally in the UK.
This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):
the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.
Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.
That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:
the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.
“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.”
The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.
The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.
In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:
Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.
Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.
On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.
Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.
The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:
the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.
“Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:
There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.
Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.
In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.
The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.
Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.
Hmm. It sounds very minimal.
The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!
In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.
The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.
It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.
It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.
Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.
Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.
If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.
This coming Sunday is traditionally known as Exaudi Sunday. Today, it is called the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The traditional name comes from the first word of the Introit in Latin: ‘Exaudi Domine’, or, in English, ‘Lord, hear my voice’.
The traditional text for the Introit comes from Psalm 27:
Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice which has called out to you, alleluia; my heart declared to you: “Your countenance have I sought; I shall ever seek your countenance, O Lord; do not turn your face from me, alleluia, alleluia.” The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
My cyberfriend and reader Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod has an excellent sermon which explains the relevance of Exaudi Sunday to Christians today. I excerpted it three years ago and it is the best I’ve read yet:
That post also expands on the meaning of the word ‘exaudi’ and how this Sunday links to the Ascension and Pentecost.
This is the final Sunday of Eastertide 2016.