March 2014 • Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

I must confess that I greatly enjoy pancakes. It’s true. There’s a local diner in Richmond that has mouthwatering chocolate chip pancakes. I understand that they’re directed, most likely, toward the children who eat at the restaurant. Still, I often can’t keep myself from ordering them. I suppose that such things are on my mind because the church I attend has recently announced its upcoming Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner. At a Shrove Tuesday dinner, pancakes traditionally are served in a celebratory spirit, marking with frivolity and mirth the last day of the Christian calendar before the onset of the Lenten season. Others may know the day as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday; the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The idea behind the day is to create a worshipful space in which to celebrate all things good in life before embarking upon a Lenten journey with Jesus, the time in which he turns toward Jerusalem and Golgotha. The celebration, of course, has been thoroughly commercialized in the United States and mostly associated with wild parties on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. However, as with my congregation and others throughout the world, Shrove Tuesday can also be a time for more tempered or restrained celebrations of life, good friends, and good food. At first glance, the pairing of these two days (Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday) may seem a bit odd. Ash Wednesday, after all, is a day in which we remember our mortality, our finitude, our frailties, and our limitations as human creatures born with bodies that are subject to decay, disease, and death. We are reminded, on Ash Wednesday, that from dust we were created, and to dust we shall return. One can see, then, that the somber and serious nature of Ash Wednesday contrasts more than a little with a joyful, pancake filled party the evening before. Personally, I look forward to this time in the Christian calendar precisely because of this contrast, as I think it conveys something important to us about the life of God and the ministry of Jesus. Our God is a God who takes seriously the celebratory, festive events in our lives. Jesus is one who turned water into wine and celebrated marriages, friendships, new life, good food, and the lilies of the field. But our God is also a God who took on the brokenness of humanity, our frailties, our mortality, our finitude. Jesus walked through the valley of the shadow of death, just as we will and just as other loved ones or acquaintances have already done. Pairing Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday so closely together, therefore, wonderfully captures the tension that’s ever present in our lives. We have much to celebrate. There is great beauty and abundance and deliciousness in our lives and throughout our world, including those delightful chocolate chip pancakes. Likewise, there is much strife, death, and darkness in our world. There are far too many reasons to lament and grieve. Suffering and anxiety are all too present and real. Thankfully, we worship a God who knows all of these dimensions of human life—the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows. Thankfully, this One we worship has taken all of the complexity of human life into God’s very heart where it is honored and deemed worthwhile. May we all learn to let our hair down a little on Shrove Tuesday and, perhaps, enjoy a pancake and all that is beautiful in our lives. And, on Ash Wednesday, may we all be mindful of the fleeting nature of life and our attachments, our frailty and finitude, and to make good use of the precious time afforded to us while we are yet still alive.


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