The day before Ash Wednesday is called SHROVE TUESDAY. To “shrive” means to confess and obtain forgiveness of sins in preparation for Lent. This tradition of the Christian church is over 1,000 years old. At the same time as people attended to the cleansing of their souls, they also focused on prayer, fasting, and alms giving. These ways of living are explained by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel that we hear on Ash Wednesday.
One way that people responded to the mandate to fast, during Lent is that they would not eat any rich food. So their houses were “cleansed” “shriven” of fats, sugars, butter, grease, etc. These foods would not be eaten during the forty days of Lent. One of the best ways to rid the home of these rich foods was to make pancakes on the day before the fast began, Ash Wednesday. During Lent people ate plain food every day except Sundays which is not included in the fasting period of Lent. Sundays are considered celebratory at all times because each Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Christian Church has celebrated this period of preparation for the crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus from its earliest days. These forty days, with the exception of Sundays, is a time for us to reflect and take stock of our lives. It is a time that is modeled by Jesus’ time in the desert as he fasted and wondered about his life and mission.
In our younger days we were always encouraged to “give up something for Lent.” Candy, cake, chocolate, movies, use of colorful language, ice cream, and cookies, were some to the things I remember we would decide to deny ourselves. We really didn’t know the point of it. So it just became a contest of wills among us.
But now I know what fasting from something that we like is about. If we abstain from an activity that we love (watching football (what did he say?), golfing, eating a specific food, etc.) it can create a space in our being in which God can enter during those times of reflection in Lent. It is about depriving ourselves of one special thing in order for a greater thing can enter our spirit—the knowledge and understanding of the deep and totally committed love of God.
Whether we fast or not, these days of Lent provide us a time to prepare for the holiest days of the church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Try to spend at least five or ten minutes each day contemplating what our God has done for us and continues to do in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, and everyday, be reminded of the magnitude of God’s love for you.