I love pancakes! Thin light crepes and thick fluffy pancakes. Savoury or sweet. Breakfast or supper. But I never understood Pancake Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and what in the world is Lent? If you grew up in an orthodox church tradition, you may understand these practices, join me as I explore the history of these practices leading up to Easter.
The term lent is derived from the old English word ‘lengthen’ as spring days get longer approaching summer. Lent is forty days before Easter in the Christian calendar, not including Sundays. It is a season of reflection beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending with the celebration of Easter Sunday. The catholic church's history began with the first Pope Gregory in the late 500s and didn’t include Sundays as the church leaders felt Sundays were a perennial celebration.
The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the desert being tempted before he began his formal ministry. The three tenants of lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Jesus was tempted by food, riches, and power.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1 NIV
To prepare for the sacrifices of lent, pancake Tuesday became a feast day before the restrictions of fasting and families would use up the foods that couldn’t be eaten during lent which included eggs, fat, and milk, made into pancakes. Also called Shrove Tuesday, from the old English word ‘shrive’ referring to the confession of sins which was the typical practice before lent during the middle ages.
Ash Wednesday signifies the first day of the lent period, a time to remember the love of God, the defeat of death through Jesus’ death, and his subsequent resurrection. The early Christian church in Rome traditionally would show their public penance by being sprinkled in ashes and dressing in sackcloth. It may be a small smudge of ash on the forehead or just a reminder that we are mortal.
“Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:6 NIV
I know we all struggle with temptation, every day! I certainly do!
I love that the God of the universe cared so much about us that he provided a way for us to be reconciled with him in a relationship and we can call on him in our moments of weakness. I love knowing that I can call out to God in prayer at any time of day, in any location, and he responds! Sometimes with a still, small voice and sometimes with the peace or strength that I need most at that moment. We don’t have to be restricted to this season of lent or easter to reflect on the marvel of our loving saviour, Jesus. He loved us so much that he died in our place, for our sins so that we could live. Wow.
As we respond to his love we can pray, fast, and give to the poor at any time during the year, not just during certain holidays.
Prayer is just talking to God, as a friend. He listens.
Fasting is just denial of something excessive in our lives that represents the sacrifice Jesus made for us. As we fast we remember that sacrifice and are thankful.
Almsgiving is being generous to the needy and suffering in our world. Be a friend, be kind, feed the hungry, give to the poor, and help the less fortunate.
As we prepare our hearts for the upcoming season of easter, remember the love and joy of the resurrection. And don’t forget the pancakes!