As a child, Shrove Tuesday was known in my house as Pancake Day. We had pancakes for breakfast and there were coins in them. I think my mother tried hard to make sure that each of her three children ended up with the same amount of money (a dime, a nickel and a penny). The fourth pancake, if you had one, was sans coin. We also knew that Pancake Day was the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
Even then I knew that I was supposed give something up during Lent and that it had something to do with what Jesus did for me (and you). It was, in my school yard anyway, a topic of conversation, “what are you giving up for Lent?” I was never quite sure why I wasn’t allowed to give up that frozen block of Brussels sprouts that appeared at supper once and a while.
On Ash Wednesday the presider says to the congregation, “I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.” That is, in a beautifully concise summons, what Lent and the ancient practice of giving-something-up is all about. We deny ourselves something so that we can use the time we would have spent eating chocolate or Brussels sprouts by observing a holy Lent.
I wouldn’t choose pancakes and sausage as my last meal but I like the tradition of Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) to eat of the sweetness of the earth because tomorrow we fast.
And now for a little math lesson: Lent is 40 days long but Ash Wednesday to Easter Day is 46 days. Why? Because our Lenten discipline doesn’t include Sundays. Sunday is always a day of celebration. Let it always be so with us.