Growing up I had heard about Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French) but I always associated it with wild parades in New Orleans. Until I became Episcopalian, I had never heard of Shrove Tuesday. I could not figure out why our church served a pancake dinner. I have since learned it commemorates the final day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, Christians abstain from rich foods and/or alcohol for the next 40 days leading up to the celebration of Easter. Since pancakes are comprised of sugar and eggs, these were meant to be used up before Lent began. Even the ingredients are said to represent important tenets. Flour represents the staff of life, eggs represent creation, salt symbolizes wholesomeness, and milk represents purity. The name “shrove” is derived from the word “shriven,” a term used by Anglo-Saxon Christians to describe the event of being absolved of one’s sins. Lent is a penitential time, as Christians are called to reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of having suffered death on the cross for the sins of the world. I know often people use this as a sort of diet plan to get ready for summer. But, while the idea of self-sacrifice may not necessarily be helping others, in my opinion it does serve to make us aware of how EVERYTHING we have is thanks to God. I do believe adding a discipline is a great thing … such as more prayer or helping those in need. But I do not believe the importance of self-denial should be underplayed. Self-sacrifice is not as exercised, in my opinion, as it should be. Heaven knows I have not bothered to curb my eating or my drinking. So this is an excellent time to make my humble sacrifices to God and truly repent. The American football coach Lou Holtz said:
“Sacrifice, discipline and prayer are essential. We gain strength through God’s word. We receive grace from the sacrament. And when we fumble due to sin – and it’s gonna happen – confession puts us back on the field.”
The next time I eat pancakes I am going to remember to strive not to fumble and to be a better person. I pray next year I will not have forgotten this Shrove Tuesday.