Today is Shrove Tuesday or "pancake day" or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It marks the day before the beginning of Lent. Indeed, tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent, the forty-day period preceding Easter. (Don't count the five Sundays, which are considered "little celebrations" of the resurrection.) Lent is a time for spiritual renewal, penance, fasting, and repentance. Ashes, symbolic of penance and humanity's creation from dust, are placed on the forehead. In some traditions, the ashes are made from the palms used for Palm Sunday the previous year, christened with water sprinkled with olive oil, and scented with incense. The practice of receiving ashes on the forehead on the first day of Lent dates back to the fifth-century church.
Sometimes people give up something for Lent. The point is to use such a sacrifice to stay mindful of what the Christ gave up in leaving heaven to enter time and space. So let's say someone gives up chocolate for Lent. Every time he or she passes up a Godiva truffle, the opportunity arises to give thanks for the great sacrifice of our Lord. Then on Easter Sunday a melting chocolate cake or a chocolate bunny totally adds to the resurrection celebration!
Many evangelicals do not celebrate Ash Wedesday. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Lutherans do. The Anglican and Episcopal churches do, as well. And the mainline Protestant denominations do, too. Individual Christ-followers may wish to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. The Book of Common Prayer can provide the structure for meditations preceding and including Holy Week. A scripture often used is Joel 2, which speaks of turning and returning:
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the LORD, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
`Where is their God?'"
Time to reflect: From what do you need to turn? What in your life needs renewal?