Shrove Tuesday (as in "to shrive," to absolve or do penance) marks the last hurrah before the austerity of Lent begins. It's the same concept as the festivals of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or Carnival (farewell to the flesh, carne). In some European countries, it is called Pancake Day as the pantry gets cleaned out of extravagant, fatty, cake-like foods that would be a temptation during Lent in favor of foods that were designated for a journey, such as unleavened bread.
One of the most fun, intergenerational events we’ve had at church is the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. As you enter the gym doors you are greeted with the sweet smell of syrup and pancakes, and sense the festivities to come. The tables are wonderfully decorated in Mardi Gras colors; there are beads and coins and confetti and even masks. Then the meal is served; and on a cold winter night you get to eat warm pancakes with syrup and butter, spicy sausages, and fruit. Along with the pancakes, coffee, juice, and milk is great fellowship and conversation. For most kids, this is their last chance to wear a Halloween costume before outgrowing it.
With Ash Wednesday comes the time to look internally, to grow spiritually by becoming more disciplined followers of Jesus Christ. It sometimes feels like a chasm that spans the time from the party of Mardi Gras to the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Day; but if we view this time as an opportunity to forge deeper relationships with our family and with God, how much greater will the celebration be on Easter? The contrast only heightens our appreciation for the joy of Christ's resurrection. Then, the feast is not a pancake supper but a banquet that is hosted by our risen Lord and Savior. Bread and juice become the foretaste of a heavenly banquet for which we are preparing during and after Lent.
One meaningful way to spend these forty days of Lent is by taking a few moments on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday to set some definite goals and intentions.
Here are some ways to observe the traditional Lenten disciplines of fasting, penitence, and prayer.
For many Christians fasting is either giving up some favorite food or not eating lunch one day a week and giving that money to charity. Either way, the intention is to draw closer to God when we are hungry and to ask God to fill the space with something other than food. Fasting can also mean refraining from certain things coming out of our mouth, such as unkind words, biting remarks, and criticism, to name a few.
The act of repentance is one of the hardest for us in our culture today. But the simple words, “I’m sorry,” can be so powerful in healing relationships and building trust. Sometimes this is with other people, family, co-workers, church members, and sometimes it is with God. Penitence is an action that opens the door to atonement, becoming one with God. It is also an action that has to be begun by us, not by God. In a sense it is a reaction to God’s abundant grace.
If we do nothing else during the forty days of Lent except pray each day, we have accomplished a great deal. This is the simplest and most effective form of communication we have with God. Prayer also has great value for each one of us: it helps us reduce our stress level, slows our heart rate, allows us to breathe more deeply, and helps us listen to our own voice that can so often get lost in our hectic day-to-day lives.
Some places to pray are:
- When you first open your eyes: “Thank you, Lord, for another day.”
- When you are driving (especially when you are in slow traffic), pray for all those around you (the people in the other cars) and for all those around you in your daily life: “God, today I lift up . . . ”. Keep a strand of prayer beads in your car to help you focus, or a cross you can hold.
- When you get home and can relax for a few moments: “Thank you God for bringing me home. Fill this home with your love and warmth so that we can rest in you.”
- When you finally make it to bed: “Thank you, Lord, for this day and for walking with me. I saw you in . . . I give all this to you, knowing you will be with me while I sleep.”
If we take small steps like this in our prayer life it will bring us closer to God.
- How do you plan to connect the party of Shrove Tuesday to the banquet feast of Easter Sunday?
- What intentions do you plan to set for your spiritual disciplines during Lent this year?
- Where do you want God to work in your life? Now is the time to think about it.