Linda asked me about the whole giving things up for Lent idea.
First off, Lent is not a Catholic thing....it's a Christian thing, Protestants do it too!!
And yes, it's actually started in the Bible..more or less.
Quick overview. -- in hindsight, as I proofread this post...it wasn't exactly "quick" :-)
Palm Sunday Jesus rode the donkey into town in triumph. The palms we use represent the palms and clothing that were laid down on the street by the crowd for his donkey to walk on. This was the equivalent of a ticker tape parade. He was hailed as a hero. The story of Zacheeus climbing the tree to see Jesus cause he was too short to see over the crowd comes from this event. The point being that EVERYONE wanted to see this man, who had performed miracles and healings and taught in God's name.
This however, posed a problem for the religious leaders of the day. Because what this Jesus of Nazareth was teaching didn't jibe with what they focused on. Matter of fact, he was saying that those religious leaders had, in essence, missed the forest for the trees and weren't gonna be getting into Heaven unless they opened their eyes.
Religious leaders got ticked off.
They then started looking for ways to get Jesus to admit to breaking the religious laws of the time...which would give them a way to get rid of Him. So they got busy asking Him trick questions and working up the crowds.
On Holy Thursday, the Thursday after Palm Sunday, Jesus had his last meal with his friends, the Apostles. (Known as the Last Supper, it was here that Jesus gave the example for what is known as The Lord's Supper, The Eucharist or Communion...depending on the church)
Then Judas told the police which of the group of men traveling together (the Apostles) was actually Jesus and they arrested Him. Taking him to the Judge trying to get him convicted. the judge (Pontius Pilate) realized that Jesus really hadn't done anything wrong...but he also realized that he'd have a riot on his hands if he didn't do what the crowd wanted. He tried a couple of ways to appease them which the crowd rejected and finally allowed Jesus to be given a death sentence to be carried out on Good Friday (the day after Holy Thursday). (There was no process of appeals back then)
Death row at the time consisted of being whipped with a whip braided from several strands of leather...each with a piece of sharp stone tied at the end. (this is called a scourge). Being publically ridiculed in whatever way the police guards saw fit. (crown of thorns...purple cloth mocking the claim that He is "king of the Jews") Then being striped and made to carry a large wooden cross from the town to the place of execution. Through the streets so that everyone has a chance to spit on you as a convict sentenced to death.
Once you got to the place where the death penalty would be carried out you were executed. Convicts sentenced to the death penalty at that time were executed not by electric chair or firing squad...rather by crucifixion. Crucifixion is the act in which a convict has both wrists naied to a large crossbar...think long railroad tie--more or less...this is the same wooden stake that the convict has carried through town. (yes, wrists, not hands...hands wouldn't hold the weight of the body but placing the large iron nails in between the 2 longbones of the forearms and above the wrist bones creats a sturdy area that would keep the convicted person upright on the cross) The crossbar is then attached to the upright pole and the person's feet are nailed in place. This creates the cross on which the convict hangs until they are dead. Now death is a slow drawn out process. As the person tires the body will sag on the nails in the wrists....which makes it very difficult to breathe...then the person will push up with their legs to get a breath...(getting innumerable splinters in their neck, back and butt)...till they tire. Eventually they basically suffocate from being too exhausted to hold themselves up.
There was a law saying no one was to be hanging on the crosses during the sabboth (which is from sundown fri to sundown sat) So the guards would go and break the legs of anyone still alive as sundown approached.. this would speed up the death. However, when they got to Jesus he was already dead. (which they found out by stabbing him in the side with a spear...and "water and blood" flowed from the womb, ie His blood had already started clotting-- I'm guessing those still alive would scream when stabbed making it more effective than trying to take a pulse).
Before sundown on Friday Jesus "gave up the ghost" and died on the cross, alongside two other convicts also executed by means of the death penalty. His body was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb (if I remember right it was a borrowed tomb?? someone correct me if I'm wrong...--if I'm right the borrowed tomb reminds us of his birth in a borrowed food trough...). On Sunday (the 3rd day) ladies went to weep at his gravesite. But found the stone which had sealed the tomb moved and his body gone. The angel revealed that he had in fact risen from the dead and been resurrected into Heaven. (probably NOT in order to participate in a Heavenly Easter Egg Hunt...but who knows??)
OKAY. Now, back to Lent.
Here's the deal. Crucifixion as outlined above was THE form of execution for all sentenced to the death penalty. Jesus knew what was coming. More than likely He had witnessed other public executions. He knew God's plan. He knew that His life was to be sacrificed for all mankind, so that we might be saved, ie so that we'd have a way to get into Heaven too. He also had the power, as God, to not go through with it. Jesus made the decision to allow himself to be sacrificed in this brutal way.
Knowing what was next and knowing that the time was near Jesus went into the desert to FAST and PRAY for 40 DAYS. (did you catch that Linda??) This time in the desert was a time of preparation, of temptation (and resistance of temptation), and of total submission to God's plan. This time in the desert was also a form of teaching. Jesus used everything he did to teach us.
During Lent we, as Christians follow Jesus' example and spend 40 days (from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday...not counting Sundays) giving some sacrifice to God in recognition of the sacrifice of His life that Jesus gave to us. We use this sacrifice as a way to honor Jesus and as a way to bring ourselves closer to God. It's not just a "giving something up". It can be a sacrifice of time...ie, adding something to your daily routine. But whatever you do should remind you that it is only by the grace of God and the sacrifice of His only son that we are given eternal life in Heaven. Catholics (and some but not all Protestants) not only sacrifice during Lent, they also -- in keeping with Jesus' example-- fast. This is why the "no meat on fridays during Lent" thing. It's actually a bit more complicated than just abstaining from meat, there's also a no snacking rule as well as a rule that there is to be only 1 regular meal with 2 smaller meals. ie a fast.
But the POINT of it is to remember Jesus' time in the desert, fighting temptation and preparing to die for you while you're following his example in fasting and sacrificing.
If you have any questions or any corrections or additions to this please leave them in the comments. If there's something you don't believe or want to discuss go ahead and leave that in the comment too. But please remember to be respectful of me and of each other during the discussion!