Traditionally Shrove Tuesday represents the last day before Lent, a time to wolf down all the food from which the devout would fast over the coming 40 days. The tradition of eating pancakes stems from this, as does Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the end of the Carnival season that runs from Epiphany through to Lent. The message remains the same even if the traditions are radically different: we’re heading into a time of repentance and absolution, so drink up, it’s closing time for a while. The party’s over.
But there’s an issue here. We’re comfortable, we’re well-fed and warm, we don’t want to surrender anything to Lent, at least nothing that actually costs something. And while this is true for us as individuals, it’s exponentially true of the church as a collective. We stand at the edge of our forty days in the wilderness, eating our pancakes and watching the technicolour dancing, reluctant to join Jesus out in the desert. Because we know the temptations he faces out there in the scorching, hungry heat, and we’re ever so concerned that we’ve already given in to every. Single. One.
There’s a danger, this close to the Cross, of getting greedy – greedy for power, greedy for influence, greedy for status. And even though we’re standing at the edge of Lent, we don’t want to give these things up; we think they’re going to build the Kingdom, so much so that we don’t stop to think about why Jesus rejected his temptatons so roundly. Instead we walk the corridors of power, thinking we’re changing the world when instead the world is changing us, a city on a hill, yes, but one decorated with barbed wire and machine gun nests. We say our King is on the throne but maybe, just maybe, he’s still being crucified outside our walls.
Lent offers us the opportunity to let go of things that hold us down. Sometimes we say that’s chocolate or cigarettes or Twitter, but collectively they’re more insidious habits – complacency, injustice, idolatry, riches, self-righteousness… Maybe this year, as the world trembles, we need to take the next forty days seriously, we need to be transformed by Lent rather than coopting it for our own agendas.
The food is eaten, the party’s over, and we’re faced with two potential destinations – our palaces or the desert. One will keep us safe, even at the expense of others; one may allow us to meet Christ in the wilderness. The choice we make affects not just us but everyone around us, so as the music of our carnivals fades, may we hear the whispering of the Spirit, showing us the way to go.