Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts

Saints’ days.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July

Today is 11 July. In North America this means it’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven convenience stores, ’cause most of us in North America write the date as 7/11 instead of 11/7. (Blame the British, who used to write their dates that way too. They switched to match the rest of Europe; we didn’t. Anyway.)

It also means today is the feast day of Benedetto de Norcia (480–548) whom English-speaking Christians know as Benedict of Nursia. He founded 12 Italian monastic communities, and created a list of rules for the monks to live by—“the Rule of St. Benedict,” which was adopted by European religious communities throughout the medieval period. The Roman Catholic Order of St. Benedict is named for him. So are a number of popes.

So today is St. Benedict’s Day. Well, it’s St. Benedict’s Day for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and most Protestants; for the Orthodox Church in America it’s 14 March. Neither of those dates correspond to the day Benedict died, which is traditionally how feast days are determined; that’d be 21 March 547. Back in 1970, the Catholics changed the date ’cause they wanted to honor Benedict, but Lent kept getting in the way, and you don’t fast on feast days, so they figured it was easier to move it to where nobody would schedule a time of fasting. As for the Orthodox… well, it’s close enough.

As I said, a saint’s day is traditionally the anniversary of their death. Usually by martyrdom: They’d get murdered or executed, sometimes in nasty ways, for following Jesus. And since ancient Christians didn’t always know these folks’ birthdays, the date of their death would do as a marker. Plus it’s the day they went to be with our Lord.

Of course there are exceptions. Like St. Benedict’s Day, which got moved for convenience. Like saints from the bible, or saints whose date of martyrdom and birthday we don’t know. And of course there are recent saints, whose birthdays are more likely to get celebrated than their date of death—which is why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on or around 15 January, not 4 April.

Pentecost.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 June

Pentecost is the Christian name for the Feast of Weeks, or שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót: Seven weeks after Passover, at which time the Hebrews harvested their wheat. Ex 34.22 On 6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, the 50th day after Passover, they were expected to come to temple and present a grain offerng to the LORD. Dt 16.9-12 Oh, and tithe a tenth of it to celebrate with—and every third year, put it in the community granary.

Our word comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for Šavuót.

Why do Christians celebrate a Hebrew harvest festival? (And have separate “harvest parties” in October?) Well we don’t celebrate it Hebrew-style: We consider it the last day of Easter, and we celebrate it for a whole other reason. In the year 33—the year Jesus died, rose, and was raptured—the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s new church on Pentecost. Happened like so:

Acts 2.1-4 KJV
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The speaking-in-tongues part is why the 20th century Christian movement which has a lot of tongues-speaking in it is called Pentecostalism. Weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never bother to keep track of when Pentecost rolls around. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little. Anyway, Luke goes on:

Acts 2.5-13 KJV
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

Christians like to call this “the first Pentecost.” Obviously it wasn’t. It’s the Feast of Weeks, which meant every devout Jew on earth was bringing their grain offerings to temple on that very day, 25 May 33. And suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew—spoken to as if to them personally.

Got their attention.

Ascension: When Jesus took his throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May

If we figure Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 wasn’t an estimate, but a literal 40 days, on Thursday, 15 May 33, this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KJV
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

I usually translate ἐπήρθη/epírthi, which the KJV renders “he was taken up,” as “he was raptured.” ’Cause that’s what happened. He got raptured into heaven.

From there Jesus ascended (from the Latin ascendere, “to climb”) to the Father’s throne—to sit at his right hand, Ac 2.33, 7.55-56 both in service and in judgment. We figure Jesus’s ascension took place the very same day he was raptured, so that’s when Christians have historically celebrated it: 40 days after Easter, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday.

Some of us figure ascension celebrates Jesus’s rapture. And yeah, we can celebrate that too… but the way more important thing is Jesus taking his throne. When we say our Lord reigns, you realize his reign began at some point. Wasn’t when he died, and defeated sin and death; wasn’t when he rose from the dead, and proved he defeated sin and death. It’s when he took his throne. It’s his ascension day. Which we observe today.

Easter.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 April

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed only two days before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח/Pesákh, “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter.

Because of the pagan origins of the word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” (Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians.)

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details. But Easter is about how Jesus was raised, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it.

They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no. And we’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form which returned to heaven. And that’s where we’ll go too: Heaven. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes, it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It’s history.

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with this assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb—nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, ’cause there’s no temple in Jerusalem to ritually sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate. Don’t tell the Exodus story. Don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions. Don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it—although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us even celebrate it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, as in Exodus and Deuteronomy. But more often, Christians do as Messianic Jews recommend—and Messianic Jews borrow their traditions less from the bible and more from the Conservative Judaism movement. (Which, contrary to their name, ain’t all that conservative.) Their haggadah—their order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative prayer books, which means it dates from the 10th century or later.

Yes, some Messianic Jewish customs are in the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, Mishnaic practices weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique customs, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all came up with their individual haggadahs. (As did Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to children. And remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who already knew the Exodus story: If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally, and they’d have celebrated several Passovers together by the time of his last supper. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas once the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (what’s with the matzot, why are bitter herbs part of the meal, why roasted meat in particular, and why does the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. Nor do Messianic Jews. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of the present-day customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.

Passover’s origins.

The bible’s second book, Exodus, is about how the Hebrew descendants of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians, and how the LORD miraculously and mightily rescued them from slavery. Passover memorializes the LORD’s last plague upon Egypt, which finally convinced their pharaoh to release the Hebrews: God “passed over” the Hebrews’ houses on his way to smite the Egyptians’ firstborn children. I know; that’s an extremely drastic punishment. But thus far the Egyptians had resisted bloody water, frogs, lice, flies, livestock disease, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Their stubbornness meant things had to escalate.


Those two things hanging on the black inside of this clay oven (or tannúr) are bread. For Passover you just made ’em without yeast. Biblical Archaeology Society

Passover’s also called the Matzot Feast, or Feast of Unleavened Bread. Ex 23.15, Mk 14.1 Unleavened bread is of course מַצָּה/matzá, which in Yiddish became mátzo, so that’s what we call it in English. (Plural מַצּ֖וֹת/matzót, and you pronounce that final T, ’cause it’s Hebrew, not French.) I should warn you some companies make matzot with yeast, which is why not all matzot is kosher for Passover. Today’s matzot tends to look like giant saltines, but in Moses’s and Jesus’s days it was simply flatbread, baked in a clay oven the same way as you usually made matzo, but without yeast.

During the feast, the Hebrews were to purge all yeast, leavening, and fermenting agents from their houses. Ex 12.15 (Yep, that also means no beer for Passover.) Why? Probably to represent haste, much like cooking a lamb you hadn’t gutted properly. Which is also part of the LORD’s details on how to observe Passover:

Exodus 12.1-20 KWL
1 In Egypt’s territory, the LORD told Moses and Aaron to say,
2 “This is your main month, your first month of the year’s months.
3 Tell the whole Israeli assembly: On the 10th of this month,
every man pick yourself a sheep for your father’s house; one sheep per house.
4 If it’s too small a house for a sheep, take your neighbor’s house,
nearest in number of souls, in mouths to feed. Figure that for the lamb.
5 Pick yourselves a sound male lamb, born this year, from your sheep or goats.
6 Put it under your watch till the 14th of this month.
The whole Israeli assembly, together: Slaughter it between the evenings. 7 Take blood from it.
Put it on the two doorjambs, on the lintel, in the house where you eat it with one another.
8 Eat the meat this night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzot and bitter herbs.
9 Don’t eat it raw, nor boiled in boiling water,
because its head, its legs, its innards must be roasted over fire.
10 Don’t have leftovers of it in the morning.
Burn the leftovers of it in the morning in the fire.
11 Eat it like this: Your waist belted, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand.
Eat it quickly. It’s the LORD’s Passover.
12 “I pass over Egypt’s territory that night.
I smite every birthright in Egypt’s territory, from Adam to the animals.
I enact my judgment upon all Egypt’s gods: I’m the LORD.
13 The blood on the houses where you are is your sign. I see the blood: I pass you over.
No smiting comes to destroy you when I smite Egypt’s territory.
14 This day is your memorial. Celebrate it as a feast to the LORD.
It’s an eternal doctrine for your generations. Celebrate it!
15 Eat matzot only seven days. On the first day stop using leaven in your houses.
If anyone eats leavening, get their souls out of Israel—whether the first or the seventh day.
16 The first day’s a holy assembly, and the seventh day’s a holy assembly.
Don’t do any work on them—other than what all souls need to eat. Only do that.
17 Watch the matzot. For on this day, in power, I brought your armies from Egypt’s territory.
Watch this day! It’s an eternal doctrine for your generations.
18 On the first month, the 14th day, at evening,
eat matzot till the 21st day of the month, at evening.
19 Seven days: No leaven is to be found in your houses.
If anyone eats leavening, get their soul out of Israel’s assembly, whether stranger or national.
20 Don’t eat any leavening in any of your dwellings.
Eat matzot.”

After that first Passover, after the LORD dealt with the Egyptians and the Hebrews were on their way out of Egypt, Moses added these instructions:

Exodus 13.3-10 KWL
3 Moses told the people, “Remember this day! You left Egypt, the slaves’ house!
You went out like this with the strength of the LORD’s hand! Don’t eat leavening!
4 The day you went out is in the month of Aviv.
5 Work this work in this month
once the LORD brings you to the land of Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites,
which he swore to your ancestors he’d give you—a land where milk and honey flow.
6 Eat matzot seven days. Feast to the LORD the seventh day.
7 Eat matzot seven days. Don’t even look at fermentation, at leavening in all your vicinity.
8 Proclaim it to your child on that day.
Say, ‘This action was done for me by the LORD when he took me from Egypt!’
9 It’s a sign on your hand for you. A memorial between your eyes.
It’s so the LORD’s Law would be in your mouth:
With a strong hand, the LORD took you from Egypt!
10 Keep this doctrine on its date in days to come.”

Passover thus became one of the three great festivals of Israel. Further commands were added about it: It had to be observed at temple, Dt 16.2, 5 and the firstfruit offering Lv 23.10-14 and other specific offerings Nu 28.16-24 became part of its observance. And of course the rabbis added the haggadah to ensure the children, like Moses said, were properly instructed as to why Passover is so important.

The last supper.

Yes, Jesus’s last supper was a Passover seder. Mk 14.14, Lk 22.15 In the year 33, Passover began on Sabbath/Saturday, Jn 19.14 but the Law permits a little wiggle room to do it the day before, when you started eating matzot. Dt 16.3 Jesus chose to eat the lamb that day, ’cause he knew he’d be busy getting killed. (Although as you know, some Christians like to nitpick, and insist Passover musta started on Thursday—contrary to what the gospels describe.)

So Jesus’s students had to perform all the ritual sacrifices and offerings Thursday morning in preparation. Mk 14.15-16 Once sundown came—’cause the middle eastern day is figured evening to evening—they got the lamb killed, drained, shaved, and cooked, and Jesus and his students came and ate. Mk 14.17 So we know they had lamb, matzot, wine, and something to dip bread in. Jn 13.26 Which might’ve been a bitter herb sauce, but also could’ve just been oil. We aren’t told.

Christians tend to think of the last supper as a somber reflection of Jesus’s self-sacrifice. True, Jesus was a little agitated, and interrupted everyone else’s calm with it. Jn 13.21-22 But otherwise the mood was just the opposite: Passover was a celebration of how the LORD saved Israel. And now, through Jesus, he was gonna save ’em again—them, and the whole world.

Jesus added one feature to his seder, one we Christians now do all year round, and not just on Good Friday or Easter: Holy communion. Mk 14.22-24 Our ritual meal is done in remembrance of Christ Jesus, and for many Christians it replaces the seder altogether.

Not that God’s deliverance of the Hebrews is irrelevant. Far from it! But for gentiles (Egyptian Christians in particular, y’know), the Exodus isn’t our story. It’s not about our salvation. It’s about the Hebrews’ salvation from Egypt. It provides us a significant historical context for what Paul and the apostles had in mind when they later wrote in their letters about the salvation Jesus brings us. It definitely explains the Lamb of God idea, where Jesus takes away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 You wanna understand salvation, election, and covenants better, read Exodus.

But again: Christians have largely replaced Hebrew-style Passover with Easter and communion. So unless we’re of Jewish descent (or unless we’re legalists), we don’t bother with seders. Go ahead and check out a seder sometime; it’s interesting. But not mandatory for Christians, ’cause we celebrate Passover our own way.

Holy Week: When Jesus died.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April

Today is Palm Sunday, the start of what we Christians call Holy Week. It’s also called Great Week, Greater Week, Holy and Great Week, Passion Week, Easter Week (by those people who consider Easter the end of the week), and various other titles. It remembers the week Jesus died.

It took place 9–17 Nisan 3793 in the Hebrew calendar; and in the Julian calendar that’d be 29 March to 4 April of the year 33.

DAYDATEJESUS’S ACTIVITY
PALM SUNDAY. 9 Nisan 3793
29 March 33
Jesus entered Jerusalem; the crowds said Hosanna. Mk 11.1-11, Mt 21.1-11, Lk 19.28-44, Jn 12.12-19
HOLY MONDAY. 10 Nisan 3793
30 March 33
Cleansing the temple of the merchants; cursing the fig tree. Mk 11.12-18, Mt 21.12-19, Lk 19.45-46, Jn 2.13-17
HOLY TUESDAY. 11 Nisan 3793
31 March 33
Jesus taught in temple. Lk 19.47-48, 21.37
HOLY WEDNESDAY. 12 Nisan 3793
1 April 33
Still teaching in temple.
MAUNDY THURSDAY. 13 Nisan 3793
2 April 33
The last supper; Jesus washes his students’ feet. Mk 14.12-26, Mt 26.17-30, Lk 22.7-39, Jn 13.1-14.30
GOOD FRIDAY. 14 Nisan 3793
3 April 33
Jesus arrested, tried, condemned, executed, and entombed. Mk 14.27-15.47, Mt 26.31-27.61, Lk 22.40-23.56, Jn 15.1-19.42
HOLY SATURDAY. 15 Nisan 3793
4 April 33
Sabbath and Passover while Jesus lay dead. Pilate orders a guard for the tomb. Mt 27.62-66, Lk 23.56

And the week had started so well….

Of course Jesus rose on Sunday the 5th, the day Christians now designate as Easter.

Different Christians observe Holy Week in different ways, depending on custom. The churches I grew up in, usually had a somber service on Good Friday, and a just-as-somber service on Easter Sunday, ’cause they usually had some sort of passion play where most of the service was focus was on Jesus getting killed. Lots of weeping. Lots of repentance and conversions. Happy ending, ’cause Jesus is alive, but the focus was more on him dying for our sins. Lots of churches tend to focus on the sad bits, ’cause we humans get depressing like that.

But many churches—properly—spend Holy Week on the sad bits, and Easter Sunday and the weeks thereafter rejoicing. Because Jesus is alive.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March

Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, died 17 March 493. Old custom is to celebrate saints’ days not on their birthday (which sometimes even they didn’t know), but on the day they went to paradise. So, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

In the United States, Irish Americans (and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier) tend to treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know little to nothing about actual Irish culture. We barely know the difference between an Irish accent, a Scots accent, and a Yorkshire accent. What we do know is Guinness, though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s “shamrock shakes,” though the last time I had one I found it way too sweet for my liking. It’s because they take an already-sugary vanilla shake, then add sugary green mint stuff. I much prefer adding vanilla and mint to a Starbucks Frappuccino.

Most American customs consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food like corned beef and potatoes, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, and all sorts of Irish distortions—some of ’em unknowingly offensive. British Americans used to treat Irish Americans like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country. Believe it or don’t, some of that hatred is still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself (although way more of ’em are German, Dutch, and Scots), so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

Oh, and wearing green. American custom is to wear green, lest someone pinch you. But the color actually comes from the political struggle between the predominantly Protestant monarchists, and the predominantly Catholic socialists. Much like Americans use red and blue to signify party affiliation, the Irish use green and orange. When we Americans wear green, we unwittingly declare we’re in favor of socialism and Catholicism. Now, I have no affiliations within Irish politics. (Though as an American I’m no monarchist whatsoever; I recognize only Jesus as king, and Christians have no business backing any kingdom but his.) But if I gotta pick a color, I’m Protestant—with nothing against my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers; like I said it’s if I gotta pick a color. I risk getting pinched over it, but I still prefer an informed choice over unthinkingly following the crowd.

Sundays in Lent.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March

If you’re observing Lent, and fasting in some form during that time, you actually get Sundays off.

Really. I know; most people aren’t aware of this, and think we have to fast every day of Lent; all 40 days. But Ash Wednesday is actually 46 days before Easter Sunday—which means there are six extra days. Days which aren’t part of the 40 days. Those are the Sundays. We don’t fast on feast days. For most Christians Sunday is our Sabbath, and Sabbath is always a feast day.

So you get little holidays from your Lenten fast. Gave up cocaine? This Sunday, do a few rails.

Kidding. But if you’ve given up something which hasn’t enslaved you (and be honest with yourself and others about this!), go ahead and partake this Sunday. If you’ve given up desserts, feel free to have a little something with your dinner. Try not to overcompensate though!

Since all these Sundays are little breaks from fasting, they can feel a little extra special during Lent. Over the centuries Christians have treated ’em as extra-special days. Even given them special names. And when I, or other Christians, refer to these names, sometimes curious Christians wanna know what that’s all about. Is there anything important we’re meant to do or remember about these Sundays? Nah, not really.

The names come from the first words of the prayer book or missal, used in liturgical churches as part of their services. They’re the first word of the first prayer in the order of service. The traditional names of the Sundays in Lent come from the first words of the German Lutheran prayer book read on that day. Generally it comes from the Latin translation of the psalms they’re reading.

  1. INVOCABIT SUNDAY is the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the Psalm 91.15: Invocabit ad me, et ego exaudiam eum, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (The Nova Vulgata, Roman Catholics’ official bible, uses the synonym clamabit, but the prayer books quote one of the previous Vulgate editions.)
  2. REMINISCERE SUNDAY is the second. Comes from Psalm 24.6: Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, Domine, “Remember your mercy, LORD.”
  3. OCULI SUNDAY comes from Psalm 24.15: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, “My eyes are always on the LORD.”
  4. LAETARE SUNDAY is also called Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday, and is a day for Christians to remember their moms—both the women who raised them, and the elders in their churches who encourage them. Comes from Isaiah 66.10, Laetare cum Jerusalem, “Rejoice with Jerusalem.”
  5. There’s some controversy about what to do on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Historically it’s been PASSION SUNDAY, as Christians used to spend two weeks, not just Holy Week, in remembering Jesus’s suffering. So there’d be Passion Sunday one week, Palm Sunday the next. But more recently churches combine the two into Palm Sunday, and the fifth Sunday is simply another Sunday, sometimes called JUDICA SUNDAY from Psalm 42:1, Judica me, Deus, “Judge me, God.”
  6. PALM SUNDAY begins Holy Week or Passion Week; it’s the week Jesus died, so there are special memorial days throughout.
  7. EASTER SUNDAY isn’t really the last Sunday of Lent; it’s the day after. Lent ended on Holy Saturday. Now it’s Easter for 49 days till Pentecost.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of uniquely Eastery things about the Sundays in Lent; just unique names. Churches vary about how they’re gonna observe them. Some liturgial churches don’t even bring up the particular names for them; they’re just another of the Sundays in Lent. And of course if you don’t go to a liturgical church, it’s just another Sunday… till Palm Sunday.

Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 March

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads to mark the first day of the Easter-season Lenten fast. What’s with the ashes? It comes from bible: When ancient middle easterners grieved, they put ashes on their heads. 2Sa 13.19, Jb 2.8 Ashes were also used to ritually purify sinners. Nu 19.9 So it’s to repeat that custom.

Lenten fasting. (It’s optional, you know.)

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

Lent is the English term for the 40-day period before Easter in which Christians fast, abstain, and otherwise practice self-control. (Assuming we practice such things at all.) In Latin it’s called quadragesima and in Greek it’s σαρακοστή/sarakostí, short for τεσσαρκοστή/tessarkostí—both of which mean “fortieth,” ’cause 40 days.

It starts Ash Wednesday, which isn’t 40 precise days before Easter; it’s 46. That’s because the six Sundays before Easter aren’t included. You don’t fast on feast days, and Sabbath is a feast day; it’s when we take a weekly break from our Lenten fasts. Many Christians don’t realize this, and wind up fasting Sundays too—since they’ve got that abstention momentum going anyway.

And for eastern Christians, Lent begins the week before Ash Wednesday, on Clean Monday. Partly because they don’t skip Sundays, and fast that day too; and partly ’cause their Lenten fast consists of the 40 days before Holy Week. Then they have a whole different fast for that week.

But no matter how you arrange it, all the fasting is finished by Easter.

Just as Jesus went without food 40 days in the wilderness, we go without… well, something. The first Christians who practiced Lent likely went all hardcore, and went without food and water. And after this practice gravely injured or killed enough of ’em, the early Christians decided maybe it’s wiser to stick to bread and water, or a vegan diet. Or, as American Catholics practice it nowadays, go without meat on Friday and Saturday. (Though for various iffy reasons, fish is considered an exception.)

Protestant custom is usually to cut back to two meals a day, then give up one extra something. Abstaining from the one thing has leaked back into popular culture and Catholicism, so now most pagans and many Christians think Lent only consists of giving up the one thing. Preferably something difficult: Giving up coffee or alcohol, chocolate or carbs, watching sports or playing video games, or anything we originally tried to give up for New Year and failed at.

Whenever I’m asked what I’m doing without for Lent, I tend to joke, “I’m giving up fruits and vegetables. Nothing but coffee and Goldfish crackers till Easter.” The kids like to joke, “I’ll give up smoking,” since they already don’t smoke. (They might vape though.)

But all joking aside, abstaining from one thing isn’t a bad custom. And we’re not giving it up for Lent; properly we’re giving it up for Jesus.

So once we recognize this, we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how does this benefit Jesus? How will it grow our relationship with him? Does it grow our relationship with him?—are we abstaining because this is something we want, or he wants? Didja bother to ask him what he actually wants us to do without?

That’s most of the reason Christians pick something difficult to abstain from. It’s a reminder Jesus is infinitely more important than our favorite things. Really he should be our favorite thing, and during Lent that’s what he oughta become, in a far more obvious way than usual. And after Lent, oughta remain.

For this reason we shouldn’t just pick something we oughta give up anyway. If you figure, “I really oughta give up adultery for Lent”: Well duh. And you oughta give up adultery period. Don’t figure you’ll quit shoplifting, or verbally abusing people, or smacking your kids around… but only till Easter. Don’t save obeying God till Lent. Nor start sinning again once it’s Easter! Just stop.

Put some wisdom into your choice. The first time I abstained for Lent, I picked coffee. I love coffee. Makes sense to pick something which might have enough of a hold on me to tempt me. Problem is, when I have my coffee first thing in the morning, the first words out of my mouth are, “Thank you Jesus for coffee”—I’m in a thanksgiving mood. From there, I can go on to prayer, devotions, and other ways of honoring him. But when I don’t have that coffee, it takes longer to get into that mood. No, I’m not saying I need coffee to worship Jesus; that’s stupid. But dropping coffee doesn’t help. (And lest you’re worried about my caffeine addiction, I usually drink decaf. Not just for Lent.)

Don’t pick a Lenten fast which’ll irritate others, or cause them hardship. I unthinkingly did this myself one year: I went without meat. In itself it’s not a bad thing… but I attended a party, was given the duty of ordering pizza, and selfishly only thought of my fast: I ordered nothing but vegetable and cheese pizzas. The other folks in the party of course wanted meat. They didn’t appreciate how I’d convenienced myself but inconvenienced them: I was behaving exactly like one of those self-righteous vegans who impose their consciences on everyone else. Lots of fasting Christians do likewise: If the friends wanna go out to eat, they respond, “Not that restaurant; I’m fasting,” and demand all their friends accommodate their devotion. That’s actually selfishness disguised as devotion. Don’t do that.

My students used to joke, “I’ll give up bathing.” (Of course. They’re kids.) But they really, really needed to bathe. They smelled enough like foot cheese as it was. And lest you get any ideas, don’t you give up bathing. Fasting is supposed to be invisible. Mt 6.16-18 Plus it’s common courtesy to not outrage our neighbor’s noses for no good reason.

Putting something down… and taking something up.

Most people talk about giving something up for Lent. Not enough of us talk about practicing something new for Lent. ’Cause when we fast, we’re meant to pray instead of eat. So when you give up, say, caffeine for Lent, you’re meant to pray instead of drink. Do a little something extra for Jesus.

Do what? Up to you. Y’might block off a little extra time for prayer or bible-reading. Might join a prayer or study group. Might volunteer for charity work, or some other kind of regular Christian activity. Sometimes Christians have the goal of making this a regular practice in their lives, even beyond Lent. More often it’s just till Easter: If you gave up reading novels to read the bible, you oughta be finished with the bible by Easter, so back to the novels. Nothing wrong with that. Well, depending on the novels.

I’ve done special bible studies during Lent in previous years. Or extra prayer meetings, extra offerings and charitable donations, extra work directly with the needy; more so than usual. Some churches do something special during this time; get involved in it. If Lent is about extra focus on Jesus, we need to do more than passively focus on him by not doing something. We should act.

Opting out.

Yes, like all fasting, Lent is optional. God never mandated fasting in the scriptures: They’re human traditions and practices, invented by us Christians, like Christmas and Easter. We have plenty of freedom when it comes to how we observe ’em. That’s why customs vary from nation to nation, church to church, house to house.

True, some churches won’t leave it up to you. They’re definitely doing Lent, and expect you to join in. Roman Catholics, fr’instance: They’re really big on worshiping God together, corporately, in unity, as a group. Local bishops can determine exceptions, but in general if you’re a member of their church, you’re gonna do as your church does. If not, why are you even Catholic?

This is where Lent can turn into a sin: If anyone promises to do something, God holds us to our promises, especially when we swear to him we’ll do it. So if I join a church, I’ve obligated myself to participate in the life of that church. If I can’t do that, they need to be okay with it… or I need to find another church.

So when Catholics claim they’re observing Lent, but insist on doing it their own way instead of in a way their church approves of, they’re harming their relationship with their church. They’re violating any promises they made to their church. They’re often hiding their non-participation from others, yet pretending they’re fasting right along with everyone else. Yep, it’s hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is fraud, and fraud is sin.

You might have totally valid objections to the way your church does Lent. They might be too legalistic. Or you have health problems. Or your job gets in the way. Or, like every other Catholic-in-name-only on St. Patrick’s Day, you wanna get plowed on green Guinness. But you need to work these issues out with your church. Don’t just break their rules and your promises, and claim it’s freedom in Christ. Freedom in Christ isn’t freedom to sin. Ju 4

Are they too legalistic? Maybe they don’t realize it. Someone got overzealous, and didn’t know they were creating hardship. Hey, it’s not always because someone’s on a power trip. But even if it is a tinhorn dictator of a pastor trying to make everyone confirm, work this out. ’Cause if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be at that church. And if it’s you, that needs to be dealt with too.

As for those Christians who don’t just skip Lent, but openly dismiss fasting in general, object to Christians who fast, and mock Lent in particular: This is exactly the sort of thing Paul wrote the Romans about.

Romans 14.5-13 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say,
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” Is 45.23
12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

Lent, practiced correctly, helps us Christians grow closer to Jesus. Ridicule (unless it’s to point out a legitimate flaw in our thinking) doesn’t help. Either do it or don’t, but don’t slam the people who are making an honest effort. Yeah, there are people who are only going through the motions to look good, and that’s all the reward they’ll get, Mt 6.1-6 because that’s really all the reward they want. But a lot of us are trying to grow our relationships with God by putting aside irrelevant things like food, drink, and entertainment.

And it just makes sense to do it before Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead and revealed to us he really has defeated sin and death. That’s why, when Easter comes and we stop fasting, we can celebrate his victory all the more.

Shrovetide: Getting ready for Lent.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 February

Christmas definitely gets all the secular attention, but Easter is most definitely Christianity’s biggest holiday. ’Cause Christ is risen. Jesus is alive. His being alive confirms everything he teaches. So we Christians put a lot into it…

…and kinda go overboard. That’s what shrovetide is about. You may already know before Easter we have a fasting period which English-speakers call Lent. Well, before Lent there’s a whole other season called shrovetide in which Christians prepare for Lent.

Shrovetide actually starts the ninth Sunday before Easter—two weeks ago. That’s 63 days before, but western Christian custom is to round it up to 70 and call it Septuagesima Sunday (from the Latin for 70, of course). The Sunday after that is 56 days before, so round it up again and it’s Sexagesima Sunday (for 60); and this Sunday is 48 days before, so Quinquagesima Sunday (for 50). Although more Christians simply call this day Shrove Sunday, the Sunday before Lent starts. And the last day of shrovetide is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Eastern Christians feel they always gotta outdo western Christians, so their customs start even earlier, with the 11th Sunday before Easter. It’s called Zacchaeus Sunday, ’cause it’s the week in their liturgy in which they read the Zacchaeus story. Lk 19.1-10 They don’t do anything extra-special for Zacchaeus Sunday; it’s just a reminder: “Uh-oh, it’s the Zacchaeus story; Lent is coming.” The 10th Sunday before, they read the Pharisee and Taxman Story, Lk 18.9-14 and use it as a reminder to not get boastful about fasting—but they deliberately don’t fast this week. The ninth Sunday is the Prodigal Son Story; Lk 15.11-32 the eighth is Last Judgment Sunday, after which they stop eating meat; the seventh is Forgiveness Sunday, after which they stop eating dairy… and Forgiveness Sunday is today. What westerners call Shrove Sunday.

The English verb shrive is one we seldom use anymore, unless it’s shrovetide. It means to confess sins. Holy days are coming, so Christians wanna be ritually clean. Unlike the Hebrews, the way Christians traditionally clean up isn’t to get literally clean (which, eww, ’cause we should, but then again this isn’t the point): It’s to get spiritually clean. Stop sinning, and make sure there are no sins on our consciences. Exhibit some of that self-control the Spirit’s trying to develop in us.

Honestly we should be living this way all the time. But liturgical churches use shrovetide as a way of waking Christians up: Easter’s coming! Get your s--t together. And some of us do.

The rest… not so much.

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 January

6 January is Epiphany, the day which celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world.

True, the Christmas stories depict that taking place with angels, sheep-herders, and frequently magi; and Jesus’s dad dressed as if he’s ready to travel, for some reason. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry—at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-36 The Message
29 The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, 30 “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ 31 I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
32 John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. 33 I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. 36 He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

In eastern churches which still follow the Julian calendar, Epiphany’s gonna wind up on 19 January, and sometimes it’ll be called Theophany.

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Two theories. One is Jesus’s baptism had to take place when the Jordan was in flood, otherwise there wouldn’t be enough water to immerse him. So January’s a good bet.

The other theory is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings. If you start with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of the year. So since that’s the week they always read the baptism story, stands to reason they’d celebrate Jesus’s baptism that week. This theory’s much less plausible, because why would they start with Mark when historically we start with Matthew? Plus the civic year back then began in March, not January.

Regardless, ancient Christians picked 6 January to celebrate Jesus’s baptism. And since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include all his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized Jesus’s birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany evolved into the separate celebration of Christmas.

Yep, that’s how it happened. I know; pagans like to claim we Christians took over all the pagan winter solstice festivals, and shoehorned Jesus’s birthday into that. Didn’t work like that. Any Christian can tell you: We don’t swipe pagan holidays. We swipe Jewish ones.

We still don’t know when Jesus was born, or baptized… and it doesn’t matter, right? We just need a day or two to celebrate. Or 12. And for the longest time Epiphany also lasted several days. Usually eight.

Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.

St. John’s Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

The third day of Christmas, 27 December, is the feast day of the apostle John.

Yokhanan bar Zavdi (English, “John, son of Zebedee”) was a first cousin of Christ Jesus; their moms were sisters, and I suspect Jesus stayed with John’s family while he headquartered himself in Capharnaum. Jesus chose him and his elder brother James to be part of his Twelve, Mk 3.17 the apostles he sent to evangelize Israel, who were later expected to run his church. Paul of Tarsus considered him a pillar of this church. Ga 2.9

He’s widely considered the student whom Jesus loved, Jn 21.20 and therefore the author of the gospel we call John, plus three letters and Revelation. There are various scholars who aren’t so sure John wrote those scriptures, ’cause John didn’t put his name on anything but Revelation (and they speculate the John of Revelation was a whole different guy named John). And maybe that’s so. But there’s no reason the author wasn’t this John.

Tradition has it John later took charge of the Ephesian church—either after Timothy held the job, or as Timothy’s bishop. Most Christians assume John died during his exile on Patmos, but traditions say he returned to Ephesus, where he either died of natural causes, or was murdered by antichrists.

The 12 days of Christmas.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 December

Tomorrow’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

After which there are 11 more days of it. 26 December—which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day—tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.

The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, including 2021, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”

Ah, the song. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

We’re on the fourth day and that’s 20 frickin’ birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas. But our culture focuses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day… and we’re done. Department store policy is to remove the Christmas merchandise on 26 December, and start putting up New Year’s and St. Valentine’s Day stuff. (If the Christmas stuff is already sold out, fill ’em with New Year’s stuff now.) So the stores grant us two days of Christmas; no more.

Really, many people can’t abide any more days of Christmas than that. When I remind people it’s 12 days, the response is seldom surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand this. If the focus of Christmas isn’t Christ, but instead all the Christian-adjacent cultural traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. Hard. Especially since Mammonists don’t bother to be like Jesus, and practice kindness and generosity. For them Christmas is about being a dick to any clerk who wishes ’em a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that behavior. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence non-English speakers get their names for Christmas, like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do these other 11 days? Same as we were supposed to do Christmas Day: Remember Jesus. Meditate on his first coming; look forward to his second coming. And rejoice; these are feast days, so the idea is to actually enjoy yourself, and have a good time with loved ones. Eat good food. Hang out. Relax. Or, if you actually like to shop, go right ahead; but if you don’t, by all means don’t.

It’s a holiday. Take a holiday.

St. Nicholas’s Day. (Yep, it’s this early in the month.)

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

Whenever kids ask me whether Santa Claus is real, I’ll point out he is based on an actual guy. That’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whose feast day is today, 6 December, in honor of his death on this date in the year 343.

Here’s the problem: There are a whole lot of myths mixed up with Nicholas’s life. And I’m not just talking about the Santa Claus stories, whether they come from Clement Moore’s poem, L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story. Christians have been making up stories about Nicholas forever.

That’s why it gets a little frustrating when people ask about the facts behind St. Nicholas: We’re not sure we do have facts behind St. Nicholas. All we do know with any certainty is he was the bishop of Myra. The other stories: We honestly have no idea what parts of them are true, and what parts are exaggerations—or full-on fabrications. It could be all fiction.

But I’ll share what we’ve got, and you can take it from there.

Round the year 270, Nikólaos was born in Patara, in the Roman province of Lykia. That’s just outside present-day Gelemis, Turkey. No, he wasn’t Turkish; the Turks didn’t move in till the Middle Ages. He was Anatolean Greek. Hence the Greek name, which means “people’s victory,” same as Nicodemus.

Nicholas’s parents were Christian. When they died, he was raised by his uncle, the town bishop, who had the same name as he, Nikólaos. Seems his uncle groomed him to go into the family business: Nicholas was trained to be a reader, the person who reads the bible during worship services. Later he became a presbyter—or, as they were considered in the Orthodox tradition, a priest.

Tradition has it Nicholas’s parents were wealthy, and he was very generous with his inheritance, regularly giving it to the needy. Probably the most popular St. Nicholas story tells of a man who couldn’t afford to marry off his daughters. Apparently they needed a large dowry in order to attract decent husbands. (Though you gotta wonder just how decent such husbands would be… but I digress.) Mysteriously, three bags of gold appeared just in time to pay for each daughter’s dowry. Of course their anonymous benefactor was Nicholas.

Depending on who’s telling the story, these weren’t bags of gold, but gold balls—and here’s where the three-ball symbol on pawnshops supposedly comes from. Or the gold appeared in the daughter’s stockings as they dried over the fireplace (even though stockings weren’t invented yet) and here’s where the custom of gifts in Christmas stockings supposedly comes from. Or Nicholas threw the gold down the chimney, and here’s where that story comes from.

Of course, people are gonna try to connect Nicholas myths with Santa myths, so as to explain how on earth these two guys are the same person. So there’s the strong likelihood none of these stories are true. Nicholas had a reputation as a gift-giver. The rest is probably rubbish.

Hanukkah.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 November

The Hebrew calendar doesn’t sync with the western calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Not like Easter, which is determined by the full moon, and therefore doesn’t sync with Passover like it oughta. In any event Hanukkah does fall on the same days every year: 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. (And in 2021, this’d be sundown 28 November to sundown 6 December.)

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-hard kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.

History lesson time. Alexander “the Great” of Macedon had conquered Jerusalem in 332, and once he died the Greek Empire was split between his generals. Seleucus Nicator took the middle eastern part and made it the Seleucid Empire. Two centuries later, Antiochus Epiphanes (or Antiochus 4) became its king, and decided the Jews were gonna conform to the Greek paganism of the rest of his empire. He banned circumcision, desecrated the temple by putting a statue of Zeus in it (figuring, as Grecian pagans did, they all worshiped the same gods under different names, so YHWH was Zeus anyway), and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Many Jews capitulated, but one family of priests, the descendants of Asmoneus (hence “Hasmoneans”) would not.

Judah Maccabee (KJV “Judas Maccabeus”) in particular. His nickname מַכְבִּי/Makheby means “extinguisher” (of persecutors), although a lot of folks insist it means “hammerer,” which sounds more badass. The Hasmoneans frequently get called the Maccabees, even though only Judah had that nickname. Anyway, Judah’s insurgency actually worked, and drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem. Not once and for all; other battles eventually got Judah killed. But at least they were out of the temple, which the Hasmoneans rededicated, and rebuilt the altar from scratch. Then they celebrated a feast. That’d be Hanukkah.

You can find the story in the apocrypha:

2 Maccabees 10.1-8 KJV
1 Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city: 2 But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down. 3 And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread. 4 When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations. 5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu. 6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. 7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place. 8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.

Advent Sunday.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 November

Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 28 November 2021. (Next year it’ll be 27 November. It moves.)

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire/“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to where? That’d be Jesus, formally coming to earth. We’re not talking about his frequent appearances here and there, but the formal appearances: Either the first time around, when he was born in the year 7BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom.

Historically this has been the time for Christians to get ready for his coming. Which we do for his first coming, by getting ready for Christmas. But Christians, Evangelicals in particular, forget it’s also about getting ready for his second coming. We might tell ourselves we oughta always be ready for that event—and we oughta!—but advent’s when we particularly pay attention to the idea. He’s coming back, y’know. Could happen at any time.

Since Evangelicals have kinda lost sight of this tradition, or figure it’s a Catholic thing (as if Roman Catholics don’t likewise lose sight of this tradition), we kinda let popular culture redefine the season for us. And of course they prefer to promote Mammonism. Gotta buy stuff for Christmas! Gotta shop. Advent gets reduced to the advent calendars (which count down from 1 December instead of the ever-changing date of Advent Sunday) and the daily treat you get from the calendar each day before Christmas. I prefer chocolate, and I know a growing number of alcoholics who prefer wine. But because manufacturers don’t care to change the product every year, we get 25-day advent calendars even though this year there are 28 days. They owe us three chocolates!

But this is what happens when we let Mammonists define the Christmas season: Wrong focus and attitude, more humbug and hypocrisy, more Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen, and less Jesus and good fruit and hope.

So ditch the secular “holiday season” and let’s celebrate advent. Joy to the world: The Lord is come!

Thanksgiving Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 November

In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.

Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41

The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefined, ’cause our Constitution won’t permit Congress to pick a national religion, nor define religious practice. Article 6; Amendment 1 Not that Congress doesn’t bend that rule on occasion. Making “In God We Trust” our national motto, fr’instance.

Though our government is secular, the nation sure isn’t. Four out of five of us Americans call ourselves Christian. I know; we sure don’t act it. (Look at our crime rate. Look at the people we elect.) Regardless, a supermajority of us claim allegiance to Jesus, which is why we can bend the Constitution so often and get away with it. Our presidents do as well; our first president was the guy who first implemented a national Thanksgiving Day.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

—President George Washington, 3 October 1789

Yeah, Americans point to other functions as our “first Thanksgiving.” Usually a harvest celebration by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Although technically the first Christian thanksgiving day on the continent was held by the Spanish in Florida in 1565—followed by another in Texas in 1598, and another by the Virginia colonists as early as 1607.

Over time, colonial custom created a regular Thanksgiving Day, held in the fall. Sometimes governments declared a Thanksgiving Day, like the Continental Congress declaring one for 18 December 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. But Washington’s declaration in 1789 didn’t fix the day nationally (and he didn’t declare another till 1795). States set their own days: In 1816, New Hampshire picked 14 November, and Massachusetts picked 28 November.

It wasn’t till 1863 when it did become regular:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Lincoln and his successors declared Thanksgiving every year thereafter.

The Christian year.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

A Christian newbie once told me he found it strange how Jews and Muslims have their own calendars, but us Christians don’t.

We do, I pointed out. The western calendar, the one the entire world uses (Jews and Muslims included, as their secular calendar), is the Gregorian calendar, formalized by Gregorius 13, bishop of Rome, sovereign of the Papal States, and head of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1572 to 1585. It’s an update of the Julian calendar, proposed by Gaius Julius Caesar in 46BC (or to use the ancient Roman era, 708AUC) which is also a Christian calendar, in use by Orthodox churches who didn’t care to have Catholics update their calendar. (A number of ’em use the Revised Julian calendar, updated in 1923, which conveniently syncs up with the Greogian… till the year 2800.)

So yeah, the Christian calendar has become everybody’s default calendar. Which means it’s no longer a special religious calendar anymore, unlike the Jewish and Muslim ones.

Various people, Christians included, will insist it never was religious. The pre-Julian calendar was put together by ancient Roman pagans; the Julian calendar was simply that old pagan calendar, updated by Greek mathematicians. Note all the months named for pagan gods and dead Caesars. Even the weekdays are named for pagan gods; in Latin-speaking countries they’re named for Roman gods, in Greece for Greek gods, and for northern European countries all but Saturday are named for Norse gods. Pope Gregory adjusted the leap years a little so they’d sync up with the equinoxes, and moved New Year’s Day from 25 March to 1 January (’cause it was a little weird how 24 March 1570 was immediately followed by 25 March 1571; shouldn’t we switch months first?). Of course moving New Year’s Day means mensus September/“seventh month” became the ninth month, so that’s weird too. But the only thing overtly Christian about the Gregorian calendar is the anno Domini, the AD, marking the age: “the Lord’s year.” Which is gradually being replaced by the secular CE for “common era.”

Hence various Christians, particularly folks in liturgical churches, have created sort of a shadow calendar. It’s “the Christian year,” a variant of the Gregorian calendar which is meant to be more Christ-focused, which begins on Advent Sunday. Other churches call it the “church year,” the “liturgical year,” or the “kalendar” with a K; it’s basically their church calendar, but extra-special.

Candlemas: Remembering when Jesus got presented in temple.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

In Leviticus the LORD told Moses the following.

Leviticus 12.1-8 KWL
1 The LORD told Moses, 2 “When you speak to Israel’s children, say,
This is about a woman who conceives and bears a male.
She’s ritually unclean seven days, just like she’s unclean during the days of her period.
3 On the eighth day, circumcise the flesh of the baby’s foreskin.
4 Have the mother sit 33 days, for purification from blood.
She mustn’t touch anything holy, can’t come to sanctuary, till her purification days are full.
5 If she bears a female, she’s unclean two weeks, like her period;
have her sit 66 days, for purification from blood.
6 When the mother’s purification days are full, for a son or daughter,
she must bring a lamb, born that year, for a burnt offering,
and a pigeon chick, or dove, for a sin offering.
Bring them to the meeting tent’s door, to the priest.
7 The priest offers it to the LORD’s face, to cover the mother.
She’s now ritually clean from her bloodflow.
This law is for any woman who begets male or female.
8 If the mother can’t find enough at hand for a lamb, bring two doves or pigeon chicks;
one for burnt offering, and one for sin offering.
The priest covers her, and she’s ritually clean.”

2 February marks 39 days after Christmas—representing the week after Jesus’s birth, then the 33rd day after that. This’d be the day Mary finished her ritual purification after giving birth, so off she and Joseph went to temple.

Luke 2.22-24 KWL
22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law,
they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law:
“Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12
24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law:
“A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8

So that’d make today Candlemas, the Christian holiday which remembers Jesus’s presentation in temple. It’s called Candlemas because traditionally, Christians bring certain candles to church to have ’em blessed, then use these sacred candles the rest of the year for various customs, rituals, and religious practices. The candles are a reminder Jesus is the world’s light—and when we follow him, so are we.

In some countries, Christmas decorations don’t come down till Candlemas. (I know; plenty of western Christians put ’em away before New Year’s Day.) Because now the Christmas and Epiphany season is over. Tomorrow we go back to regular time—the period between Christmas and Easter, or Easter and Christmas. (Which, in 2020, ain’t long. Ash Wednesday is on 26 February.)

Churching new mothers.

Childbirth is a dangerous time. Our survival rate nowadays is really good… but in prescientific days, this wasn’t the case. Any complication would turn fatal, for either the mother, or child, or both.

So a lot of cultures developed the custom of celebrating new mothers. Believe it or not, this includes the 39 to 72 days the LORD set aside for ritual purification. During the time women were ritually unclean, they were expected to stay home—to not interact with anyone else, lest they make others ritually unclean. But most importantly, they didn’t have to perform any tasks outside the house, didn’t have to go back to work, and weren’t obligated to go to temple or synagogue: They could stay with their newborn baby, and concentrate on their little one. Or, if childbirth didn’t go so well, they could otherwise recover. Or mourn.

Since Christians don’t really bother with ritual cleanliness anymore (the Holy Spirit indwells us, so when are we ever ritually unclean for worship?) it often meant the end of this rest time for Christian women after childbirth. But various Christian leaders recognized the need for some form of maternity leave, and this evolved into the custom of churching new mothers: Forty days after giving birth, the mother was expected to come to church and be publicly blessed.

But till then, she wasn’t expected to come to church. She could stay home and recuperate. (And Irish folk tradition added if she didn’t stay home, the fairies might get her. Disney movies have really sanitized how people imagine fairies; in folklore they’re evil spirits, so… not good.)

Some churches mixed together some of their churching traditions with their Candlemas traditions, so new mothers might bring candles and get ’em blessed. Other churches might have the new mothers take 40 days off, but not hold a blessing for them till Candlemas itself, and then bless all the new mothers at once. And if churches believed in baptizing babies, sometimes they’d do that too.

Of course, churches which aren’t liturgical don’t always hold special times of blessing for new mothers. Which is a shame. New babies are a big deal! Motherhood should be recognized. So if it’s not a formal part of your church, see if you can get something started.