Lent, that time of the year when we sometimes try to give up some of the things we like most, in my case chocolate and crisps! This is good in itself for the waistline, but most importantly in order that we might have time and space to take up things that might help us focus a little bit more on God.
But what about the start of Lent, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, what are they all about?
On Shrove Tuesday, the traditional making of pancakes shows something of its meaning. The idea is that we use up all the nice things in the kitchen so that there is nothing left around to distract us during Lent! The word shrove also gives a clue, the word deriving from the old English verb ‘shrive’ which means to receive absolution through confession of our sins. So, the meaning of Shrove Tuesday? It literally means ‘Confession Tuesday’, and so I wonder what will you confess to as you make your pancakes this year?
On Ash Wednesday, the word ‘ash’ give then main clue as to its meaning. This first day of Lent could have perhaps been called ‘black or grey’ Wednesday, but ash links back to the Old Testament practice that when someone was sorry they showed it by covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes. Job 42v5-6 says “My ears have heard of you God, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I repent in dust and ashes.”
So how should we put all these things together from Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday through to Easter? What is this time all about? What journey does this part of the Christian year take us on?
Shrove Tuesday, this is about preparing for the next day of Ash Wednesday, bringing to mind the sinful things we need to give up. Wine, chocolate and crisps aren’t sinful, but of course our greed behind them could be.
Ash Wednesday, this is about preparing for the six weeks of Lent, making our confession and asking for forgiveness. Putting ash on the forehead is a symbol to say that we recognise God is a Holy, that we are sinful from birth and so need his cleansing and forgiveness.
Lent, this is about preparing for the final week of Holy Week as we spend time repenting of our sin and sins. Repentance is not just being sorry, but our deciding to turn around and act differently, to do a U-turn, to a 180 degree turn from going our own way to God’s way.
Holy Week, this is about preparing for the message of Good Friday as we remember the journey Jesus had to take to bring about our forgiveness, his death of a cross.
And finally, the end of the journey is Easter, that day when Jesus was raised to new life and which is available to us when we have faith in him.
So, back to the start of Lent, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, may I leave you with the words that we use at our Ash Wednesday service which sum up where we all need to begin if we are to experience a real journey to Easter and find new life.
Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from your sin and be faithful to Christ.
With my prayers for a life changing journey this Lent
Revd James Hunt
Rector St Peter’s and Blessed Mary
5th March 2017