In just a few days, we are invited to turn from pancakes to pretzels, from over-the-top partying to on-the-knees penitence.
For those disciples of Jesus who observe the season of Lent, the upcoming 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter are a time for reflection and repentance. Ash Wednesday begins these 40 days by marking the foreheads of believers with ashes of mourning, a mark of sorrow and sadness for our sin. Additionally, throughout Lent, Christians may choose to “give up” some indulgence as a spiritual discipline.
But before Ash Wednesday comes Tuesday, but not just any ole Tuesday. Commonly called, and exhuberantly celebrated, as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” many folks see this as a day for letting themselves run wild before settling down for Lent’s self-denial and solemn reflection.
In theory if not practice, some see this as a day to “use up” the more indulgent foods in the household. Thus, the menu before Lent begins features pancakes, full of rich butter, eggs, and milk on what many call “Pancake Day.”
But then, pretzels (without these ‘fattening’ elements) are a favored Lenten snack. Some Christian traditions hold that the pretzels’ X-shape mirrors the crossed arms of penitent prayer.
Of course, Mardi Gras usually unleashes much more extreme behaviors than eating a tall stack of pancakes or buying big bags of pretzels!
The Body of Christ has another name for the day before Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday takes its name from the past tense of “shrive,” a word from ages back meaning “to confess and do penance” for one’s sins.
Embracing Lent as a faithful approach to Easter means more than giving up fattening foods or picking up pretzels.To shrive is working to let go of all those practices, habits, and desires that weigh us down.The apostle Paul urges us to rekindle the gift of God within us…[the] “spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:7).
Ironically, Fat Tuesday invites self-indulgence at an extreme level, while Shrove Tuesday is an invitation to self-control. Shrove Tuesday invites us to look beyond ourselves, our more self-serving impulses and toward God and others.
So, ready to get your “shrive on”? Perhaps we can share a pretzel, but hold the cinammon glaze.
(Pretzels with cinammon glaze and chocolate — not on the Lenten Plan.)