What’s your favourite day of the Year? Mine might be Pancake Day.
We love pancakes so much in Britain that we dedicate a whole day to celebrating and eating them – at least that’s what I used to tell people in Turkey.
In fact, it’s a British tradition that dates back at least to the Middle Ages. There are recipes for pancakes, which reference the custom, in a cookery book dated 1439. It was a great way to use up eggs and fat before the Lenten Fast began on Ash Wednesday.
The more formal name for Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘shriven’, which means to be absolved from your sins. So, the day has been important in England for over 1000 years and it’s still celebrated today.
We have pancake races for the housewives of Olney, Buckinghamshire; skipping in Scarborough, Yorkshire; a traditional game of 'hurling the silver ball' in St Columb Major, Cornwall and tolling of the shriving bells in many parish churches.
Our family have continued these ancient customs by holding our own Pancake Parties, with guests required to attempt tossing the pancake before being rewarded with pancakes adorned with a selection of berries, creams and syrups.
Shrove Tuesday is meant to be preparation for Lent, a period of reflection and fasting before Easter. To be honest I’ve not been so dedicated to observing Lent. Many Christian traditions still have corporate fasts, but this is unusual in The West. Fasting is often seen an individual, fringe activity for the more dedicated, or possibly wacky, members of the congregation. Over the years I've struggled to even give something up for Lent.
But corporate fasting and prayer is biblical. In response to Jonah’s prophecy the people of Nineveh, modern day Mosul, believed, fasted and put on sackcloth. Because of this God didn’t destroy the city. (See Jonah 3)
Jesus was asked about fasting:
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?
But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
Luke 5 v 33 – 35 (NIV)
There is a place for both celebration and fasting in our walk with God.
Every year when we were living in Turkey, I witnessed the change of atmosphere during the month of Ramadan as many of our Muslim neighbours fasted during daylight hours. As the sun set the families would gather for Iftar, the meal which broke the daily fast.
There is a strong sense of social cohesion and unity, even for those who are not fasting. Everyone thinks about God and their religion more. You can feel the spiritual power of so many in the community praying and fasting together, even though it is an obligation in Islam.
How much more powerful is a voluntary, Christian fast of the Church?
As we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.
As we concentrate on His word, we will hear him speaking.
As we deny ourselves and take up our cross, we will follow Him.
Throughout history, national and religious leaders have called for days of prayer at moments of crisis. As the Allied forces retreated before the advancing Nazi army in May 1940, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer. Subsequently, over 338,000 allied troops were evacuated from France during the miracle of Dunkirk.
When King Solomon finished building the temple the Lord appeared to him at night, saying…
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7 v 13-14 (NIV)
Corporate prayer and fasting is powerful
Maybe you are planning to give up chocolate for Lent or you will be fasting on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday. I'm looking forward to taking time aside to prepare for Easter by considering the cross of Jesus and how it demonstrates the love of God.
But before that I'm going to enjoy eating pancakes with as many different toppings as I can devise. What a great way to start a period of reflection and fasting!