I am writing this blog on Tuesday evening, 2/21/2023 after returning from my church’s “Pancake Tuesday” celebration. Today, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, is celebrated under a host of different names: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras (which means “Fat Tuesday”), Pancake Tuesday and so on. There are any number of traditions about what is traditionally eaten the day before Ash Wednesday. I can’t speak to all of them, but I can tell you what we do to mark the last day in the season of Epiphany – we have a pancake feast in the evening with our church community!
Since I’ve been at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, we take advantage of meeting together for this last feast before Lent by raising money for our youth to go to summer camp. So the youth (and their families) set up tables and chairs in the hall, with festive Mardi Gras decorations on the tables, and spend more than one evening preparing all the homemade food. The menu: Breakfast potatoes with onions and peppers, mac and cheese, pancakes (of course!), eggs, bacon, and all the trimmings for the pancakes. What a feast it was! And it’s so good to be in the company of my fellow Christians as we share a meal together, especially during the socially lean years of COVID.
What is Ash Wednesday, then? According to the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book, “Ash Wednesday is a solemn day of prayer that begins the season of Lent. On this day we confess our sin in a litany of repentance. During Lent’s forty days we are invited to carry out the Lenten discipline, practices of fasting, prayer, and work of love even as we accompany people around the world who are preparing for baptism at Easter. On this day we may receive the sign of ashes. This ancient symbol of repentance reminds us of our mortality. Returning to God’s mercy and grace, marked with the cross of Christ, we make our way through Lent, longing for the baptismal waters of Easter, our spiritual rebirth.”
How do we know which Wednesday to celebrate “Ash Wednesday”? Ash Wednesday is calculated 40 days before Easter. Therefore, we need to know how to calculate which Sunday Easter will be, because it is not on a fixed date each year, like Christmas. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21st (a fixed approximation of the March equinox). In 2023, the first full moon after March 21st is April 6th. The first Sunday after April 6th (which is a Thursday), is April 9th. That is the date for Easter in 2023. Happily, this information is readily available on the internet, and on special liturgical calendars, so we don’t have to do the calculations ourselves!
Jewish Passover is also calculated by the lunar calendar, so we celebrate Holy Week at the same time our Jewish brethren celebrate Passover.
We calculate the rest of our Lenten calendar between the Ash Wednesday and Easter dates. We work backwards from Easter and calculate the following Sundays and Festivals:
April 2nd, 2023: Passion/Palm Sunday (1 week before Easter)
April 6th, 2023: Maundy Thursday
April 7th, 2023: Good Friday
April 9th, 2023: Easter Day
That leaves 5 Sundays for Lent. (There is a maximum of 6 and a minimum of 4 Lenten Sundays.)
February 26th, 2023: 1 Lent
March 5th, 2023: 2 Lent
March 12th, 2023: 3 Lent
March 19th, 2023: 4 Lent
March 26th, 2023: 5 Lent
I will continue to talk more about Lent in next week’s blog. Until then, may grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love! Amen.