Next week, after celebrating the sweetness and decadence of life with pancakes, bacon, syrup, and king cake on Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, depending on your provenance), we will enter the quieter, more solemn season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. These two holidays go back to back, and together they move us from one extreme to another: sugary sparkle and revelry to sackcloth and ashes. But at their heart I hear the same pulsing beat of life: what it means to be alive – what it means to live.
My own theological spin on Shrove Tuesday is that it is an invitation to focus on pleasure and fullness and sweetness of God’s gift of life. We are eating up the sugar, fat, wheat, eggs, and meat in the larder to prepare for a more austere Lent – and in doing so we can lean in to their deliciousness. (If pancakes are not your feast food, I encourage you to enjoy what is!) “The glory of God is a human person fully alive” said Irenaeus; pleasure and enjoyment are parts of life’s fullness, parts of what God desires for each of us, part of what we seek as we work for the flourishing of all God’s creation. To be alive should not just be survival, but delight. For too many people today it has become just that.
Ash Wednesday is also about what it means to live, for it reminds us that we are alive – which means that we will someday die. In a world where we are tempted to play God, where we are taught to worship youth and to believe that we are in control of the world around us, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are creatures made from dust, and that to dust we will return, finite. This does not excuse the actions we take in the world; we come before God asking for new and contrite hearts, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness (BCP 264). We are creatures, and no matter how we may strive to follow God we fall short. We sin. And so we repent, coming before God aware of the gift of our life, and turn our hearts and minds towards God, and fullness of life in God.
The calendar of the church year offers us both of these days as moments to deepen our relationship with the God who made us, calls us good, and loves us; the God who came to live and die with us; the God who calls us to live in and out of that love in the world today. I hope to see you as we mark each one: at the Pancake Supper from 5-7 pm on 2/13 and at Ash Wednesday services at 7:30 am, 12 pm, and 7:30 pm on 2/14.