An advert used to appear on television every year around February. It showed a bottle of lemon juice poised to pour over an empty plate, with the slogan, “Don’t forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon Day.”
The advert urged everybody not to forget a certain brand of lemon juice on Pancake Day. Nowadays it seems that while very many people remember to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, very few remember what they signify! Perhaps we should put up adverts of our own – `Don’t forget that Pancake Day is the last day before Lent’.
The forty days leading up to Good Friday have always had a special place in the church. Even in the First Century it was a period of intensive preparation for the baptisms which took place at sunrise on Easter Day. Lent reminds us of the forty days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. It begins on `Ash Wednesday’, a day of confession and repentance in `sackcloth and ashes’, and ends on Good Friday remembering Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world.
The forty days are a season of fasting and self-denial for disciples who mean business about overcoming temptation, taking up the cross and following their Lord. The sole purpose of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was to use up the last fat in the house in preparation for fasting and self-denial through Lent.
We don’t hear much about self-denial these days. Even those Christians who practise fasting mostly fast as an aid to prayer rather than as a discipline of self-denial. Our rich world sees happiness as having all our desires satisfied immediately. ‘Moderation’ is unpopular and ‘abstinence’ almost unheard of. But the way of the cross replaces selfishness with self-denial. As an antidote to self-indulgence, fasting helps us to develop self-control, strengthening our will to resist other temptations too. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave.” Few of us “subdue” our bodies as Paul did (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Fasting as self-denial is an exercise for spiritual “athletes in training.”
So what will you give up for Lent? Something you enjoy, perhaps a favourite food (chocaholics?) or beverage (cappuccino aficionados) or perhaps a television programme for anyone addicted to the ‘Soaps’ or late night snooker. For some folk giving up text messaging or Facebook would be more appropriate. It must be something you will miss, so that it takes real effort to put God first and deny yourself! Something that will help you centre your life on God. Enjoy your pancakes on Pancake Day – but try not to forget the real point!