Today has traditionally been called “Shrove Tuesday.” The word “shrove” is derived from an Old English verb “to shrive,” which means “to hear confession,” or “to grant absolution.” To shrive is about cleaning out the cobwebs in the closets of your soul – things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid – which may clutter or weigh heavily on your conscience. And so, this word “shrive,” from which we get the traditional name for today, Shrove Tuesday, is buttressed right next to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of season of Lent, a season of penitence and abstinence. Some of you may have grown up with the custom of a pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, which is no accident. Going back to the Middle Ages, the custom of eating pancakes and sausages had a practical purpose, since eggs and fat were used, and eggs and fat were forbidden during the fasting of Lent. In one swoop, the larder is cleared out and you have one last blowout meal before you face (tomorrow) Ash Wednesday. Enjoy today because tomorrow’s down to serious business: Lent.
Now tomorrow begins this new season in the calendar of the church, Lent, and the “church colour” has traditionally been purple or violet signifying a time of solemn prepara¬tion and humility in anticipation of Easter. We know that the church has been observing this solemn Lenten season of preparation since at least 325 AD
It is not insignificant that the season of Lent lasts for forty days. The number forty comes from the forty days’ fasts recorded in the scriptures: Moses, Elijah and Jesus (following his baptism) all fasted for forty days. Now here’s an aside. If you look at the calendar and do the math, you will note that there are more than forty days between tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. That’s because Lent does not include the Sundays in Lent. Sun¬days are “feast days,” Sundays always being “little Easters,” days that we remember Christ’s resurrection, which are festal days. And so, we talk about Sundays being in Lent but not of Lent.
Now about this practice of fasting. the scriptures speak of fasting: less about fasting in the sense of eliminating something or denying yourself of some food, but fasting more in the sense of holding firm, of fastening our resolve to a discipline or practice. Fasting: more an affirmation of some principle rather than a renunciation of some desire. In the early days of Christian monasticism, John Cassian, a monk of the fifth century, wrote how under the Old Law, the observance of a fast was obligatory. Now, he writes, fasting is a voluntary devotion, what he calls an “efficacious sign of detachment” from the world and an “attachment to God alone.” Fasting is a way of fastening on to what is most important, that first love, that ultimate desire, our beginning and our end: to know God and love God and serve God. Fasting in Lent may open some space within you to receive what Jesus called “the food that will last forever” and to give you both the freedom and the focus share that food – literally and symbolically – with a world that is starving for what Jesus promised.