Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

. . . for tomorrow we fast.

It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, Carnaval in Brazil: a time of wild outrageous fun, or dark evil debauchery, depending on how you look at it. Strange as it may seem, this wild event grew out of the Christian tradition of fasting during the 40-day season of Lent leading up to Easter. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, or one last fling before the fasting begins. A less exuberant celebration, Shrove Tuesday, marks the beginning of fasting by eating pancakes, and thus using up the rich eggs and butter in the larder before the Lenten fast. In many parts of the United Kingdom, there are wonderful Pancake Day celebrations that seem much more child-friendly than Carnaval or Mardi Gras. There are even pancake races at the National Cathedral (pictured above.) For full video go to YouTube.

When I was growing up we ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. In recent years my church has had a "Mardi Gras Pancake Breakfast" for children and parents on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. We borrow from both traditions, serving pancakes, making masks, handing out beads, and ending with a parade, marching and singing "When the Saints Go Marching In." All of these various celebratory activities are designed to prepare us to fast during the season of Lent.

Why fast? What is to be gained from denying ourselves something that we like? Why fast during Lent? Tradition? Guilt? Repentance? Fasting is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. Lots of our favorite Biblical heroes fasted; Moses, David, Esther, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul all fasted. Should you? I don't know!

For me, the practice of giving up something for Lent (or its corollary, taking up something for Lent) has been a good one. It is always surprising what insights flow from the practice. It is humbling to find how little self-discipline I have. It helps me stay focused on how greatly loved I am as we move toward Good Friday. My small sacrifice in no way mimics the great sacrifice Jesus made, but each uncomfortable moment reminds me to think on Jesus' wondrous love. Hopefully, those frequent reminders make me look for ways to love those around me, remind me to carry on the work that Jesus began.

My "sacrifice" for this year is a small one. I am going to forgo eating out for the 40 days and give away the money I save. It will be inconvenient. It will mean forgoing an outing or two with friends or coworkers. I hope that each time I am faced with the temptation to grab a taco or a burger that I will remember all that was done for me. And rejoice in the love that has been showered upon me, and with good cheer, reach out in love to someone in need.

And next Tuesday, I'm definitely going to have a Mardi Gras lunch at a favorite restaurant. It is also good to celebrate this abundant life we have received!

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