This weekend, we celebrate Mardi Gras at MCC Austin with our annual Fat Sunday service. Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is the final day of the Carnival celebrations as well as the last celebration day before the Lenten season begins for Christians on Ash Wednesday. In faithful New Orleans fashion, we are going to celebrate Mardi Gras with a rousing feast of food and music, and in faithful Christian fashion, we are going to celebrate by reveling in God’s joyous love for us and our joyful love for God.

Then, next Wednesday, March 1, the Christian community observes Ash Wednesday.  If you were raised in an evangelical religious environment or in no church at all, talk about Lent and Ash Wednesday may be new to you. For others who grew up with this service, you may still have questions.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. This observance dates back to the 900’s A.D., and it is based on a practice that began in Biblical times, in which a mark placed on a person’s forehead symbolized that the person belonged to a particular master. By having our foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, we symbolize that we belong to Jesus Christ. Ashes are used because they are a symbol of penitence. They also symbolize our mortality.

At many services, as the ashes are imposed on the forehead, the Presider says, “From dust you have come and to dust you will return” reminding us of our mortality and the importance of our confession and right relationship with God. Ash Wednesday helps us get in touch with both the fragility of life and our human fickleness. On Palm Sunday, we wave palm branches as did the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” A few short days later, these people jeered, “Crucify him!” The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from last year’s palm branches. We remember and confess the times when we have moved from praising God to rejecting God and God’s will.

This year MCC Austin will not be having an Ash Wednesday service. We considered every possibility for having one, but in the end, logistical and space challenges were just too much for us to overcome. I do hope, however, that you will consider finding a church where you can attend an Ash Wednesday service or at least finding a few quiet moments during the day or evening to set your own intention for entering Lent. Music, prayer, and meditation are all rituals that help create a space for taking a closer look at our inner lives and relationship with God.

I hope you will plan to worship with us at either 9:00 or 11:00 a.m. on Fat Sunday and that you’ll stay afterwards for wonderful food and fellowship hosted by our Deacons.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!