Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent

In the past I have written emails now and again to explain why we do what we do on occasion, especially when we approach certain days in the liturgical year. We are approaching Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and we have several new families who are coming into this possibly as something totally new. So, I thought I’d write a brief explanation of why we observe these days. (For a fuller explanation of why we recognize the Church Year at all, you may go to our website and look on the Pastor’s Page under “Church/Liturgical Year.”)

Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are both related to the season of Lent. (Lent, by the way, simply means “Spring.”) Lent is forty days previous to Easter Sunday. The forty day/year period in the Bible is quite frequent and significant. It is a time, generally speaking, of preparation for entering into a new age; an age in which the promises of God will be realized. Moving into that time is a time of testing. This testing is reflected preeminently in our Lord Jesus and his testing in the wilderness when he fulfills all the whole significance of the “40" time period. He goes through a time of testing so that, after passing the test, he may come into the promise of the Father. The church year follows the life of Christ. One of the reasons for the observance of Lent is to shape the church into Christ’s image. So, we take the time to focus on sin, repentance, and look forward to the future promises of God. We, like Christ, take upon ourselves, in some form or fashion, a form of death (e.g., fasting) for the sake of others just as Christ took death upon himself for us. Of course, living this cruciform life is to take place year round. This is simply a time of special focus. Its observance is not obligatory like the call to come around the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day. We understand this as helpful and wise; a means to help focus our hearts and minds.

Shrove Tuesday celebration (also called Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday”) arose in association with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Traditionally, the fast in Lent involved fasting from meat. This came to include all sorts of related products as well (e.g., milk & eggs). So, the Tuesday before Lent was an exercise in getting rid of all those things. Hence, the pancakes. (Incidentally, this seems also to be the reason why eggs became associated with Easter. Chickens kept on laying them all the way through Lent. There were many eggs at the end of Lent. What else would you do with them beside have a great time with them!) While some of the initial reasons for Shrove Tuesday are not necessarily relevant for us, it is another good excuse to have a get together to eat and have a good time. Also, it provides a stark contrast to get us in the rhythm of the season when we have our service of ashes on Wednesday.

Our Ash Wednesday service is focused on confession and repentance of sin. We do apply ashes to all those who wish to participate. You may come to the service and not have the ashes applied. That is fine. But we do find ashes associated with repentance in the Bible. It is a tangible reminder of our sin and the result of it: death. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” is what you will hear when the ashes are applied. We do this to remember that we are deserving of death because of our sin, but we also look toward the hope of the resurrection. Living right now between the first and last resurrection, we live in this tension of having already been raised with Christ but not yet raised with Christ. One way we try to keep ourselves grounded in that reality, not jumping ahead thinking that we have arrived at God’s final promise, is to have this service of ashes.

Also, during our Ash Wednesday service, we have a special alms collection. These alms will go to the deacons' fund for mercy ministry projects. The giving of alms is associated with the spirit of Lent: it is the giving ourselves for the lives of others. We tangibly express this through the giving of alms.

If you have not participated in these services in the past, I encourage you to do so. I pray that it will be helpful to you in your Christian walk as our attentions are sharply focused. But again, if you are uncomfortable with aspects of the service like the ashes, the rest of the service can still be of benefit. I also encourage you to come to both if at all possible. Shrove Tuesday is fun, and everybody likes it. Ash Wednesday is not so fun. But the contrast between the two is the importance of having both.

I hope this is helpful. I look forward to moving through these seasons once again with all of you.