by Lilly Lewin

Start the Lenten season with a clean slate…and maple syrup

For many of us, we grew up with “lent” as something you’d find in the dryer or your belly button, rather than a season of the church year. So if you’re new to experiencing the season of Lent, you might be excited to know that we first get to celebrate with pancakes! Yep! I said pancakes: chocolate chip, strawberry and whipped cream, or just plain old flap jacks!
Pancake Tuesday is better known in Britain. In the United States, it’s also known as Shrove Tuesday, though we typically call it Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Either way, the Tuesday before Lent is the day of celebration and confession before the fasting of the 40 days of Lent begins.
So what is Shrove Tuesday and why should you care? (Besides the fact that you get a good excuse to eat pancakes for dinner?) As a youth pastor, I became a fan because the youth group helped host the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner each year. But people have been participating in Shrove Tuesday since the Middle Ages. Folks would clean out their pantries of all the fat—all the butter, eggs, milk, sugar, etc.—in preparation for the Lenten fast. Pancakes became a good way to eat these things that wouldn’t last through the Lenten season. The word “shrove” comes from “to shrive”: to confess and/or hear a confession and thus, be forgiven. So people would seek out forgiveness on Shrove Tuesday so they could begin Lent with a clean slate.
I like to celebrate Shrove Tuesday because it’s a great way to get your family and even your community together for fun and an opportunity for a time of confession. (We Protestants are not very good at confession so we need all the help we can get!)
Here are some ideas to help you start a tradition of Shrove Tuesday with your family or church community:

  • Invite some friends over or just gather your family.
  • Make up a batch of pancakes. Throw some scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage on the menu for those who need more protein than carbs, and add a fruit salad to make it healthy. Or if you don’t feel like cooking, go out with your group and have pancakes at Denny’s or IHOP. We’ve actually done this the last few years and had our devotion right in the middle of the restaurant!
  • Before the meal, take time to celebrate all that God has done in your life so far this year.
  • Share these things with one another
  • Have some cards or Post-It notes for folks to write down their celebrations and thanksgivings.
  • Put Post-Its on a poster or on a window making a thank you/celebration stained glass window that you can keep up and add to throughout the season of Lent.
  • After dinner, take time to reflect on what hasn’t been great in your life this year, this month, this week, today…take time to confess these things.
  • Have some paper and pens available and take a few minutes to write down and confess your “junk” to Jesus.
  • If your group is a “safe” group, (you know each other well) you might confess your “sins one to another” and then pray for each other.

Some other tangible ways to do confession:
After writing down your sins, the junk that separates you from Jesus, and the burdens weighing you down,

  1. Burn these confessions in the fireplace or in a fireproof dish (you can use the ashes from these in your Ash Wednesday gathering to mark foreheads with a cross of ashes),
  2. Shred them in your paper shredder or,
  3. Lay them in front of a cross.

However you choose to do your confession, actually do it and then celebrate together that your sins are forgiven.
While you are praying, remember those on the gulf coast and in New Orleans, the Mecca of Mardi Gras, who are still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina, and pray for them. Pray also for other places in the world that see only the party side of Fat Tuesday and not the opportunity to connect with God. Pray for the places of unrest throughout our world to be healed with God’s peace and reconciliation. (You can even use a map of the world or a current newspaper for inspiration as you pray!)
Check out this site for recipes and how to videos.
Now if you’re thinking, I wish I’d known about this LAST week, so I’d have some prep time, don’t be frustrated. Be creative! I’m a practitioner, not a legalist. So why not have a pancake dinner, lunch or even breakfast some time in the next week. Doesn’t have to be Tuesday.  Or go out like I said before. Whenever you have the pancakes, make it the beginning of your  Lenten season either as a family or a group.
And as we look at Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, take today as a great opportunity to consider a Lenten practice for the next 40 days before Easter.
If you’ve never “celebrated” Lent before, why not give it a go? And if you grew up with a “sack cloth and ashes” view of Lent, let 2011 be a Lent reimagined. One of my favorite authors, Ed Hayes, says to use the 40 days of Lent as a honeymoon, to fall more in love with Jesus! My friend and former boss, Roger Foote, used to encourage us to add rather than subtract during Lent. Rather than giving up something for Lent, do something you’ve been meaning to do or neglected to do as your Lenten practice.
Rather than just giving up something like chocolate or TV, add something like:

  • Taking time for silence
  • Taking time to journal
  • Taking time to write, call, or visit people you’ve lost contact with
  • Practice real Sabbath rest
  • Practice giving and serving the poor
  • Practice _______ (fill in the blank)

Remember that if you choose to give up something as a part of Lent, like chocolate or TV, you can participate in this activity on Sundays during Lent because Sundays are feast days not fast days…but if you give up cursing, whining, etc. you might neglect this gift of freedom.
So go find your spatula and buy some syrup. Celebrate 1000 years of tradition and have a great Pancake Tuesday! And why not choose to fall more in love with Jesus during the weeks before Easter while you’re at it?