Why the day before Lent is all about celebrating–and enjoying a few pancakes!
In our church, Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, is a day of celebration. Or at least a day to eat pancakes, make merry and kick up your heels a bit. We usually have a jazz combo playing at the parish house and if I’m lucky, I dance with my friend and fellow worshipper Juanita.
Shrove Tuesday was a new one to me. In my church back home we never did anything for the day before Ash Wednesday. I knew of the traditions of Mardi Gras, richly celebrated down in New Orleans with parades and music and beads and costumes and shenanigans. “Mardi Gras,” after all, means “Fat Tuesday.”
But where does Shrove Tuesday come from? Does it mean “Fat Tuesday” too? A little research proved helpful. The word “shrove” comes from the old English word “shrive” which refers to asking for absolution from your sins. To get ready for Lent, it was traditional to ask forgiveness. Nothing about “Fat” in it.
Those 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter (Sundays don’t count, mind you, in case you’re looking at your calendar and counting) are a time of fasting and spiritual growth, mimicking the time Jesus spent in the wilderness.
I think of Lent as wilderness time. An occasion for contemplation, for rediscovering what my life’s focus is, just as Jesus did in the desert. It was His moment of readiness for His ministry. Don’t we all need reflection time to be able to focus on our life’s call?
So what would that have to do with pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?
The pancakes themselves are often made up or decorated with foods that people give up for Lent: the sweet syrups, the whipped cream, lots of butter. (Make you feel hungry yet?)
The dancing and the music are reminders of our community of faith, the people who stick by us in good times and tough times. A little celebration before a period of contemplation. A little dancing.
As for absolution, it’s always available, in good times and bad. We are “shriven” and forgiven by the Lord of the dance.
Happy Shrove Tuesday. Have a pancake or two on me.