Today is what was traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday, before it became Mardi Gras. In the middle ages it was traditionally the day to be “shriven” of your sins (meaning you confess and are assigned your penance to be absolved), before beginning the fast of lent the following day, Ash Wednesday. It later became a sort of “last call” to indulge the last bit of rich foods or other worldly pleasure before the lenten fast would take such things away. It’s for this reason that it’s sometimes called Pancake Tuesday. Given that all that butter, eggs, and dairy would have to be used up or spoil, there was also a practical reason for the last indulgence of foods in addition to the psychological desire for a last call.
But I like the older tradition.
If, like many of us here, you belong to a church that doesn’t formally observe the traditional liturgical calendar, and doesn’t practice formal confession for sins other than major ones, it is still a great day to confess your sins in prayer, to plead with God for forgiveness, and to ponder what you might do to recommit and renew your resolve to live rightly. Whether you observe the full fast of Lent or not, tonight and tomorrow are a good time to ponder on God’s justice, and on our own sinful nature, and the consequent inevitability of our own damnation, but for the atonement of Christ.
The point is not to indulge in masochism, or to give in to hopelessness and despair. Nor is it to give up a token vice as a substitute for real repentance. The point is rather, for those of us who believe in Christ, to take the time to appreciate how dark and hopeless our faith would be without Christ and his atonement, and to prepare to emulate his 40-day fast in our small, broken, and imperfect way. We can’t fully appreciate the hope and the promise of Easter if we don’t first accept the universal inevitability of death and damnation and the urgent need for repentance.
A few passages from the Book of Mormon that I’ll be pondering tonight and tomorrow are these:
For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
King Benjamin, Mosiah 3:18-19.
[T]hey had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
People of King Benjamin, Mosiah 4:2.