Published 6:47 pm Monday, February 15, 2021

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By Scott Baker

Most people have heard of Shrove Tuesday; aka Fat Tuesday; aka Mardi Gras. But I wonder how many know that Shrove Tuesday is just the last day of a little-known season in the liturgical calendar known as Shrovetide? Shrovetide begins on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and includes Shrove Monday and culminates on Shrove Tuesday. Most of us associate pancakes and sausages with Shrove Tuesday, which symbolizes giving up meat and sweets for the Lenten fast. What has been lost over the years is the actual meaning of the word “shrove.” Shrove means to be forgiven. It was the time before the great Lenten fast where the parish priest would hear confessions from his parishioners; thus, they were shriven of their sins. And although we’ve lost that meaning of the season of Shrovetide, that doesn’t mean it is without merit.

In The Book of Common Prayer we have a marvelous collection of the English language. In fact, many scholars of literature include it in the top 10 lists of all time influential works of the English language. One of the treasures it contains is the General Confession, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent … (The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 360).” It is during this time, just before the Lenten season begins, that we reflect on these words especially. Many of us think of sin(s) as particular acts that we have consciously done to hurt or harm, but I wonder how many of us think of sin as having its beginning in our thoughts? It is the first in the list of sins — thought, word and deed. How can we take this time to reflect on how we understand and frame the world around us and adjust it to be more in line with how God is calling us to live in the world?

Regardless of what sort of year we have had since last year’s Lenten season ended, we all could benefit by taking some time out of our day to ponder “what we have done and what we have left undone.” All too often we think of sins as particular acts committed by us against God or our neighbor; what we call the sins of commission. How many of us consider those things we have left undone? These are the sins of omission. Those times and occasions where we have failed to do the right thing, or say the right thing. If you are like me, these are the times when I find myself distracted by my own thoughts, needs or concerns and am blind to the plight of my neighbor.

As we begin the season of Lent, rather than contemplating what to give up for the 40 days of Lent, perhaps we would be better served by doing the hard preparatory work that Shrovetide calls us to do and see where we have fallen short “In thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone.” By doing this hard work we can enter into a truly holy and life-affirming Lenten season.


FATHER SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.