Today is Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, call it what you will, it is the day before the solemn season of Lent begins. Mardi Gras sounds incredibly exotic until you translate it into English when it literally becomes Fat Tuesday! It is sad that the town will be quiet today without its usual Pancake Race – I hope, however, we shall all celebrate the day at home by eating up the last of the rich foods we have before the start of the Lenten fast. The ingredients of pancakes, eggs, milk, flour and butter for frying, are hardly considered luxurious foods for most of us in our comfortable western society, but the symbolism is good.
Symbolism is present in all faiths, and, as I was thinking of Shrove Tuesday, the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur came to mind. In Biblical tradition, at the festival, the Jewish High Priest symbolically laid all the sins of the people on to a goat, which was then sent out into the wilderness taking the sins of the people with it – this was the scapegoat. Of course, it was most unfair as the goat had done none of the things he was blamed for, so the word has come down in history to mean placing unfair blame on a person or group of people when the real culprit gets away free.
The great symbolic act in our parish, is not eating pancakes, or running in a race, but going to the Shriving Service in church. There are few Shriving Services left now, but that is where the real name of the day came from. Shrove Tuesday is the day when we are shriven or absolved of all our sins so we can begin Lent with a clean slate. Going to church is a good way to ‘own’ our sins and to say sorry to God ourselves.
What might we do instead? Clearly prayer is always important – and asking God’s forgiveness and grace to start again but doing something symbolic sometimes helps. Why not try writing down all the things you are sorry about? The things you wish you’d done better, or not done at all – and the things you should have done and didn’t – then getting rid of the paper and the sins at the same time? I like to burn mine – fine if you have a fireplace or a safe place in the garden, otherwise tear them up and float them down the river, perhaps a bit polluting. Failing that, you could always add them to the town drain through the handy receptacle we find in every home! God always forgives us; if we truly repent, we shall be shriven – it is always helpful, however, to make an effort to show we mean it!