I have to admit, I needed to "research" a bit about what this day actually means. I have heard of Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, but what in the world does "shrove" mean?
A quick internet search helps a bit:
"'Shrove Tuesday' (also known in Commonwealth countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent...the expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "absolve"."
Of course with food-eating comes party-having and perhaps some other festivities that you can imagine as part of our understanding of "Mardi Gras." Think New Orleans, beads, dancing, costumes...
So, the tradition holds that before you fast for 40 days, you have one last chance to feast before Lent begins.
I understand how much this practice may be, but I am afraid it conveys a God that does not wish for us to have fun and celebrate much. I am afraid this practice may convey a message that the season of Lent is not a joyful time, that we should not look forward to it.
Our season of Lent is derived from the time after he was baptized. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. During this time, Jesus fasted. But this time was far more than simply giving up food. It was a time of self-discovery, for proving himself, claiming his own identity...a time for Jesus to be equipped for ministry in the world. A time set apart to be tempted and tried, but ultimately come away from it with a strong sense of who he was.
OK, maybe the tradition of this day makes a bit more sense to me now. If Lent is to be an intense time of self-discovery, sacrifice, prayer, and a re-commitment to God, maybe one more day of "carelessness" makes sense...
But I believe this tradition marks just who we are as human beings. The way we think of Lent as a transaction (I will sacrifice 40 days as long as I get just 1 day of "carelessness"), points to our need for grace and mercy. We are human beings in need of that; we are in need of a God who offers us this time to be strengthened through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that Christ himself did as well. And Jesus died too, just as we will.
Ash Wednesday points to our humanness, our limitations, and just how much God loves us. We will not live forever in this world in these bodies. We were born from dust, and to dust we will return. We have hope that this life we will be made new one day, that we will be raised up by the power and mercy of God, but Wednesday, and throughout Lent, we ponder our humanness. We contemplate that we are not there yet, that we need a God who comes to us now in our humanness.
So eat your pancakes today, receive your ashes tomorrow. Be reminded of your limitations, your need for grace. We are invited to be strengthened by God during this time in the wilderness of our own lives. May God grant you peace and mercy through this season of Lent.
God of Lent,
As we enter this time of sacrifice, self-discovery, prayer, repentance, of drawing closer to You, grant us peace, grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the road ahead. Strengthen us, mold us, make us new by your grace and mercy. Through Jesus Christ our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.