Pausing just before the end...

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As Lent Madness 2021 winds down, sports fans might well expect us to say, "Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this Saintly Smackdown, without the express written consent of the Supreme Executive Committee, is prohibited." But that's not really our jam.

Other than our insistence that people vote once and once only, we're pretty relaxed about how Lent Madness is shared and played. We like it when people organize email campaigns for their saint. We love the fan art and many projects that pop up.

In fact, rather than use the just-before-the-end moment to chasten you with rules, we want to pause for a moment of gratitude and a word of hope.

As we mentioned on Monday Madness this week, even the Supreme Executive Committee can admit that we couldn't do Lent Madness ourselves. It takes a whole team to make this happen.

We are grateful for our Distinguished Celebrity Bloggers Laurie Brock, Megan Castellan, and David Sibley. Our Celebrity Bloggers this year were Amber Belldene, Anna Fitch Courie, David Creech, Miguel Escobar, Neva Rae Fox, David Hansen, Emily McFarlan Miller, Carol Howard Merritt, and Miriam Willard McKenney. All of them work hard on short deadlines to bring you biographies, quotes, kitsch, and more. We can't forget our Distinguished Bracket Czar, Adam Thomas, who keeps our official bracket updated and writes the unforgettable yet ephemeral headlines to announce each day's competition news.

Forward Movement has sponsored Lent Madness since 2012. The whole team gets involved, including editors, designers, sales folks, marketers, and, of course, editors. Thanks to the Forward Movement team: Liz Brignac, Loren Dixon, Christina Dorn, Vicki Everett, Alyssa Finke, Samantha Franklin, Amy Golden, Carrie Graves, Tania Z. Jones, Kathy Jose, Allison Sandlin Liles, Miriam McKenney, Jason Merritt, Hugo Olaiz, Aleia Robinson, Peggy Sanchez, Jay Sidebotham, Richelle Thompson, and Chris Yaw.

We are profoundly grateful to the many fans of Lent Madness. The comments sections here -- unlike most of the internet -- are usually a delight. We love seeing how each year a community is formed.

This year, we enjoyed the poetry of John Cabot in the comments. We loved seeing the peg dolls that the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana painted (and their amazing opening video). We loved Ellie Singer's TikTok videos, including today's video for Absalom Jones vs. Benedict the Moor. Seth Reese built an incredible website for people to post their brackets. To all of you, we say, wow, wow, wow.

Thank you to those we have named and to the whole company of Lent Madness players and fans on earth and in heaven.

We hope you have enjoyed Lent Madness, but even more, we hope that in these saints you have found inspiration. If God can work in such diverse people from all times and places, perhaps God can work in any of us. In these saints, we know that we have friends in heaven, those who have fought the good fight and who can cheer us on in our earthly journey.

If you are grateful, we invite you to make a donation to Forward Movement to support this work. Forward Movement offers inspiration and hope to people around the world with free websites such as Lent Madness, Grow Christians, and 50 Days. Each year, Forward Movement sends over 100,000 copies of free printed material to incarcerated persons, hospital patients, nursing home residents, and deployed military personnel. Forward Movement has provided free resources during the pandemic. All of this, including Lent Madness, is made possible because of generous donors. You can contact the friendly folks at Forward Movement to make your gift or you can give online right now.


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It's Spy Wednesday Eve! But what is Spy Wednesday?

As the Lent Madness faithful are fully aware, voting for the Golden Halo takes place tomorrow, on the Wednesday of Holy Week. You may have heard the Supreme Executive Committee refer to this day as “Spy Wednesday.” They mentioned this day several times in this week's episode of Monday Madness. Unlike many terms associated with the saintly smackdown, the SEC did not, in fact, make up this name on a whim, unlike Scott trying to convince you that yesterday was Nard Monday and today is Grain Tuesday. Thus, as several of you have asked us about this unusual name for the Wednesday in Holy Week, we thought we’d shed some light on this.

First of all, Spy Wednesday does not refer to James Bond, the Cold War, or even the famous Spy vs. Spy comic strip popularized by Mad Magazine (though there is an uncanny resemblance here to Tim and Scott).

Spy Wednesday gets its name because it is the day on which Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin. Because Judas is thought to be sneaky, his actions conjured up the image of a spy. The synoptic gospels all include an account of the betrayal — Matthew 26:12-14, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6.

This is how the Gospel of Luke recounts the events:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:3-6)

Spy Wednesday iconThe icon here evocatively depicts this infamous scene of dark spy-like conspiracy. If you enter fully into every day of Holy Week, the Gospel readings provide the narrative of Jesus’ final days, an ever-quickening story that spins out of control and finally brings us to Good Friday.

It is surely a strange juxtaposition to think about Spy Wednesday and Lent Madness in the same moment. But the whole point of Lent Madness is to engage us all in an exploration of the ways God’s grace has filled the lives of women and men through history and across all cultures. Sure, we’ve been silly and even competitive about our Lenten exercise. In the end though, we are learning to see in fresh ways how Jesus Christ matters to all humanity. That seems like a good and holy thing to do on Spy Wednesday.

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Always Resurrection

"It is winter in Narnia," said Mr. Tumnus, "and has been for ever so long...always winter, but never Christmas." In the imaginative writing of Golden Halo 2011 winner C. S. Lewis, Narnia was in the grip of what seemed like an endlessly grim winter. It's not hard for us to grasp this image as the United States is largely covered with snow and filled with shivering people in the midst of a pandemic.

flowers in snow

In the church, one would be forgiven for thinking it's always Lent and never Easter. Last year's Lent started pretty normally, but most churches closed to in-person worship before Holy Week. We started a Lenten journey that it may well seem we never finished. In the last year, we've been worn down by a pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Our normal patterns and beloved customs are disrupted.

One may wonder if we're in the grip of an endlessly grim Lent as we start anew our Lenten journey. After all, the previous Lent never seems to have ended. No matter how we celebrate Easter, or even if we skip it entirely, nothing can change the fact that the tomb was empty one morning long ago in ancient Jerusalem. We can't be sure what this year's Easter will look like. But we can be sure that Christians around the world will find ways to celebrate the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil, of love over sin, of life over death.

Jesus frees us from the grip of sin, and he certainly frees us from the grip of an endlessly grim Lenten journey.

At Lent Madness, we are fond of reminding people that Lent is not about misery, though it may sometimes be about fasting and self-denial. During the holy season of Lent, we "prepare with joy for the Paschal feast" as we turn our hearts and our lives toward Jesus. In that way, even in Lent, we are always suffused with joy.

This Ash Wednesday will be unlike any other. You may not even receive ashes. Fortunately, the real centerpiece of Ash Wednesday -- despite the name -- is not the mark of our mortality, but the invitation to a holy Lent, the litany of penitence, and the recitation of Psalm 51.

There are three verses of Psalm 51 that stand out to us as important this year as we contemplate the start of another Lenten journey.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

Today we step back from the usual silliness of Lent Madness to invite you to a holy Lent. Let us all pray that we might know the joy of God's saving help and the power of God's bountiful Spirit. By God's mighty grace, there is always Resurrection.

Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey,
Tim+   Scott+

Photo by flickr user Henna K.

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