Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Ashes of Wednesday that inaugurate the 40 day season of longing, Lent. Dating back to as before 1000, Shrove Tuesday (‘Fat Tuseday’) is a time to prepare for the season of Lent. Shrove’s origin is from the English verb to shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by the means of confession and penance. The origin of the celebratory aspect of “Shrove Tuesday” predates “Fat Tuesday”, “Carnival”, “Mardi Gras” and the Protestant Revolution. The idea was for people to release the “high spirits” before the “somber” season of Lent.
We have somehow translated “Shrovetide” or “Shrove Tuesday” into a variety of traditions that lack the bite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does eating pancakes have to do with preparing for lent? The rationale is that all the fatty ingredients that go into pancakes are often fasted during lent. Consider Mardi Gras or Carnival. What do the activities associated with these celebrations have to do with preparing for lent or even Christianity? Why does the church feel compelled to “celebrate sin” for a day before a season of fasting?
I want to suggest that we need to re-align our understanding of the Tuesday before Lent. We need to re-ground it in the narrative of Scripture. Specifically, we need to saturate it in the waters of our baptism into Christ. In yesterday’s post, I noted that it is immediately after Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit sends him into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days and to be tempted by Satan. What better way to prepare for the fasting and temptation of Lent than to follow our Lord and remember our baptism into his promise.
It is often noted of the Reformer Martin Luther that when tempted by Satan he would reply, “I AM Baptized.” Notice this is not a past action according to Luther, but a present promise of the benefits of being in Christ. How much more fitting would it be for us to remember our Baptism into Christ the Tuesday before Lent than to celebrate in spite of it.