“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
When I was a young boy, the house filled with the aroma of homemade donuts sizzling in a pan of hot fat on the day before Ash Wednesday. We called them Fastnachts. Nothing which Dunkin Donuts creates could ever compare to those pastry delights. Our family was preparing for the six-week period ahead leading into Easter Sunday, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. This time period, Lent, embraced a sincere endeavor to right the wrongs on our hearts and walk with Jesus to his death on Calvary. Some families observed a weekly day of fasting during Lent. Some eliminated a favorite pastime or a certain food as a means of sacrifice.
Shrove Tuesday is also observed as Fat Tuesday, Carnival, or Mardi Gras. Over the past 500 years the call to be absolved of one’s sins on this day has evolved into a time of partying, drinking, and merry-making. “Shrove” is the past tense of “shrive” meaning to confess one’s sins, repent and be absolved. To me and my family it provided a path to clear our slates of wrongdoing and resentments within a corporate faith fellowship. Personally it provided a time to carry a daily routine of prayer and forgiveness to an especially focused effort to take an inventory and cleanse the heart of wrongdoing. We ultimately carry our crosses with Jesus through the season of the Lenten journey to a time of crucifixion of self, death of selfish motivation, and then spiritual renewal.
Contemporary Christianity seems often to be joyless and even dead because it has relinquished the joys of celebratory church observances to preach instead a Gospel which dwells on prosperous worldly achievement or social justice activism. The “holidays” of the Church are meant to enrich the daily routine of our faith walk. Jesus loved a party, a wedding, a time with friends. I’m sure he would have appreciated a plate full of Fastnachts. I know that today he shares our humanity, smiles and laughs when we do, celebrates when we celebrate. That’s who he is.