February 5, 2008

Happy Pancake Day!

Posted in Christian culture, The Church Year at 4:28 pm by Matt Porter

PancakeTurtleTake a deep breath—Lent is upon us! Tomorrow, the celebration of Ash Wednesday, kicks off the forty day (plus a few Sundays) season which anticipates Easter Sunday. Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, was once the last day before Easter to eat meats, poultry, or dairy products, so many English families would eat a delicious meal (or three) of pancakes in order to use up these foods before Lent. Even as mandatory fasting was relaxed and eventually rescinded, the traditional meal kept its place in English culture. (Or, for another possible tradition, read this post about the Pancake Turtle.)

But who cares? Isn’t Lent a Catholic thing, something good Baptists should shun? To answer, I’ll give you a little background on Lent as well as a little background on our family’s celebration.

As best as we can tell, Lent has developed from the preparation new converts underwent before being baptized. By the second century or so, it had become common to hold all baptisms on Easter Sunday. Although the specifics varied with each congregation, candidates went through a period of training to prepare them for their new life. The period was marked with a ceremony similar to what is now celebrated as Ash Wednesday; the ashes were a mark of humility and repentance, like the sackcloth and ashes of the Old Testament. In some churches, those who were already baptized also came forward to be marked, identifying themselves with the candidates’ humility and repentance. Eventually, entire churches would come forward, setting aside the period before Easter as a time to focus on repentance.

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of Lent. It is a time to acknowledge the sinfulness of the flesh and to repent of that sin. The intense focus serves both to humble us and to help us value Christ’s work of redemption. The fasting, the giving up of things, the extra alms or prayer or devotion, are really a means to an end; as with all spiritual disciplines, they demonstrate to us how tightly bound we are to the material world and they assist in severing us from it.

Our family’s involvement with Lent begins with our participation in Advent last year. Advent, as the season before Christmas, is a time of anticipation of Christ’s birth (and second coming) and of realizing our need for His coming. Advent helped us put Christmas in perspective and helped counteract some of the commercialism and hype surrounding the season. With the success of Advent, it was only natural that we should become interested in the other major season of the church year, Lent.

So what are we hoping to accomplish? First, a renewed awareness of our sin. Second, a renewed repentance from what we see. Third, a renewed appreciation of the work of Christ in light of our sin. We look forward to seeing how God works in each of these areas during this first Lent season for us.

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