Shrove Tuesday means pancakes but what can we learn from this age-old custom of preparing for Lent
Tuesday is Pancake Day! The shops are filled with flour, eggs, lemons, syrups, chocolate…all the lovely things that go into our pancakes. The problem is that while we love our pancakes (plain with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of sugar please) we forget their history and the reason we have them on Shrove Tuesday.
Shrove Tuesday is a day of preparation for the long fast of Lent. It is 40 days till Easter, and during this time we remember Jesus fasting in the wilderness, but also the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. It is a time of waiting. The word ‘shrove’ comes from the Old English to be forgiven, to have our sins absolved, to repent and be put right with God. For our medieval Christian ancestors there was a great fear of dying without being ‘shriven’, being able to confess our sins and be right with God. The problem was that they relied on the services of a priest to pronounce God’s forgiveness. We are Baptists, a priesthood of all believers, and we believe that there is only one intermediary between God and humanity: Jesus Christ. Therefore, as John tells us, when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So getting right with God is just a breath away, we don’t need anyone else, just a prayer.
But this idea of cleansing stretches into the kitchen. Prior to Passover, Jewish cooks will sweep through the whole house getting rid of yeast, cleansing the house. The bread eaten at Passover is always unleavened, following the directions to Moses on that first Passover. It is an opportunity to clean right through the house, spring cleaning. As Christians we have adopted these practices. We clear out the cupboards, getting rid of those tempting treats we have promised to give up for Lent. For many of us that means removing chocolate, or at least hiding it away. In Medieval times Lent came just at the time that chickens were not laying so many eggs, before the lush new grass had allowed the cows to produce creamier milk, and stores were generally starting to run low. So Shrove Tuesday, complete with pancakes, was an opportunity to use up all the last of the eggs, butter, and delicious titbits before the austerity of Lent started.
Lent was never just about giving up stuff, fasting is never about not eating chocolate, or missing meals, it is about taking on something new. Lent is the perfect opportunity to spend more time with God in prayer, to read our bibles more, to serve our communities, to prepare for the celebration of Easter and live as resurrection people.
So, when you eat your pancakes, think about what things you will give up, and what things you will take on. Think about what things need to be cleared out of our lives, and what new habits we need to form. And also think about the joy of pancakes: a mix of flour, eggs, milk, butter and delicious toppings, giving thanks that all these things are gifts from our generous Father.
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