Friday, February 11, 2005

Friday after Ash Wednesday

GOD said to Noah: "The end has come for all things of flesh."--Genesis 6:13

ONE does not appreciate the sight of earth until one has traveled through a flood. . . . As we progress up the river, habitations become more frequent but are yet still miles apart. Nearly all of them are deserted, and the outhouses floated off. To add to the gloom, almost every living thing seems to have departed, and not a whistle of a bird nor the bark of the squirrel can be heard in this solitude. Sometimes a morose gar will throw his tail aloft and disappear in the river, but beyond this everything is quiet-the quiet of dissolution. Down the river floats now a neatly whitewashed henhouse, then a cluster of neatly split fence rails, or a door and a bloated carcass, solemnly guarded by a pair of buzzards, the only bird to be seen, which feast on the carcass as it bears them along. A picture frame in which there was a cheap lithograph of a soldier on horseback, as it floated on, told of some hearth invaded by the water and despoiled of this ornament.--Mark Twain

PICTURES of the temptation of Jesus often show him in a bleak and barren place, the only living being among bare, gloomy rocks. Mark's reference to animals reminds us that the reality was probably quite different. We may imagine Jesus sitting among rabbits and wildflowers perhaps visited at night by a lion and in the morning by birds who came to investigate this new, and so quiet, dweller in their wilderness. Not only human beings, but through them all created things, are called into the communion made possible when the power of the spirit in Jesus broke through barriers of possessiveness and lust for power. Satan's plausible suggestion is that if we want good things we must make sure we keep them to ourselves. Someone else might take some. But Noah's ark is the sign that we can only be saved together. Those who refuse untidy and unpredictable intimacy, clinging to their right to control and manipulate, drown in the water which they cannot control. This water is the water of life, and life is the spirit that grows and flows and bears up the ark on its bouyant surface.--Rosemary Houghton

EVEN before the introduction of Lent it had been customary to fast before Easter: one day, two days, even a week. But even when Lent was generally accepted, not all of its forty days [from the First Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday] were at first regarded as fast days. In Rome toward the end of the fourth century a fast of three weeks was usual; and even when people began to fast on all the other days of Lent they still made an exception of the Sundays. Because Lent contains six Sundays, there thus remained thirty-four fast days leading up to the ancient paschal triduum. But if Good Friday and Holy Saturday (which were also fast days) were counted as well, that made thirty-six days in all-just one tenth of a year. In this fashion, as was observed with a certain satisfaction (for example, by John Cassian and Gregory the Great), one paid a tithe of the year to God. But since the seventh century considerable importance began to be attached to the idea that in Lent there ought to be the full number of forty fast-days. It became necessary, therefore, to take in four days from the preceding week; and thus Ash Wednesday came to be the beginning of Lent.--Josef Jungmann

FOODSTORES in earliest spring are at their lowest. Animals are calving or laying eggs. Lenten fasting has its origins in these rhythms of nature. For forty days we remind ourselves that the earth is like Noah's ark, all creatures gravely dependent on each other. Lenten fasting is a participation in the new birth of this season. Only by fasting together can we preserve each other's lives, as well as the lives of generations yet to be born.--Keeping Lent, Triduum, and Eastertide

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