Lundi Gras

Our family doesn’t have any special traditions for today. Shrove Monday, also known as Collop Monday, Rose Monday, Merry Monday or Hall Monday, is the Monday before Ash Wednesday every year. Shrovetide is a liturgical season of preparation. Officially Shrovetide spans three days, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Traditions vary, however, and there are many different way to observe the period of time of pondering Lent. The somber season of Lent is often accompanied by fasting and sacrifice, and shrove preparations usually involve eating foods that are given up during the six weeks before Easter.

Pancakes are the traditional food of Shrove Tuesday, as households used up the last bits of butter and other fat in preparation for a lean season to follow. In some places, Shrove Monday is the day to eat up leftover portions of meat that may remain in the family larder. In Northern Germany, local tradition states that if “sausages and sauerkraut are eaten at Shrovetide, good luck will follow.” My wife, Susan, isn’t a big fan of sauerkraut, so I don’t think we’ll go in for that particular practice. In Denmark, people eat sweet buns covered with icing and filled with jam or cream. Children dress up and collect money or sweets from people. Small gifts for children are a part of the shrove season in many countries.

In Aruba, Carnival Monday is a national holiday. The purpose of the holiday is a day of rest following the Carnival festivities of the preceding weekend. There are all kinds of celebrations, marked by feasting and drinking over the weekend prior to Ash Wednesday and after all of that activity, Monday is an official day of rest.

In the United States, New Orleans is often seen as the location where the season before Lent is celebrated with carnival and parades and festivities. Mardi Gras is technically Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, but the term has been expanded to refer to a few festival days preceding Ash Wednesday. Multiple parades and activities span the entire season of Epiphany from the twelfth night after Christmas to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

The word shrove is the past tense of the verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution. The rite of the church begins with confession of one’s sins. Forgiveness is offered by the officiant. Although the process of confession and forgiveness is a part of each week’s Christian worship, a special emphasis is placed on receiving absolution or forgiveness just prior to the beginning of Lent.

In our household, Mondays have often been a day of rest following the activities of Sundays. For much of our careers, we have taken Mondays as a day off since we work on weekends. Yesterday was a fairly busy Sunday. Our church was able to return to hybrid worship after many weeks of online only worship. It was good to see people back in the church building for worship. Susan and I both had meetings following the worship service and I had a bell choir rehearsal at noon. We had time for a walk in the afternoon before returning to the church for an in-person meeting with confirmands and mentors in the early evening. By the time we got home and relaxed for a little while we were ready for bed and we don’t have much planned for today’s activities. It is, however, a day off before returning to work at the church on Tuesday. We might eat some of the leftovers in our kitchen in preparation for another busy week ahead. No parades or feasts are on the schedule for the day at our household.

Sometimes when I visit with people who are less familiar with the routines of the church, I am struck by how many folks have what seems to me to be misinformation about the nature of the church and those of us who make the church the center of our lives. There are many people who think of the church as a judgmental institution where folks are berated for their sins. In my experience, being the church has little to do with judging others. We trust God to handle the judgment. We focus on building community together. Being the church, from my perspective, involves forgiving often. We need not only to forgive others for the hurts of the past, but we need to learn to forgive ourselves so that we can go forward without the burden of guilt. Of course forgiveness is one of those things that is easier said than done. It can be hard work to forgive, especially when the hurt remains. The phrase “forgive and forget” doesn’t quite fit. We don’t easily forget being hurt and there are some pains which cannot be forgotten. The memory of loss and pain remains. But we can forgive. We can open the door to new relationship and healing. Even when we remember, we are capable of releasing the pain. Love is stronger than harsh words or thoughtless actions. It makes sense to have a special time each year to think a bit about forgiveness and absolution.

Since I retired from full-time ministry, I have not had the weekly task of writing prayers of confession and words of forgiveness for worship services. In fact the congregation where we now participate does not have confession and forgiveness as a part of regular weekly worship. A pastoral prayer often includes words of confession and forgiveness, but there is no formal act of reconciliation in the usual liturgy of this particular congregation. After decades of preparing prayers of confession, I do miss those prayers. I miss the regular opportunity to admit that our actions have caused pain for others and an accompanying reminder that forgiveness is possible as we commit to making changes in our thoughts, words and behavior.

Today as I pause to reflect, it is easy to see how my own actions and decisions have had an impact on others. I have enjoyed great privilege while others have lacked basic necessities. I have not always shared when I was able. I have consumed more than my fair share of the world’s resources. Whether or not there is a formal ritual of confession in our weekly services, a prayer of confession is in order for me. That will be a good investment of my time as I consider the opportunities for change that Lent offers.

May your Shrove Monday be a day of joy. May you feel the power of forgiveness in your life today.

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