This Week: Feb. 20 - 26

Published: February 19, 2012

Pancakes and ashes. What do the two have in common? Well, each is a part of activities featured on the School of Divinity calendar this week. Also, each is a part of how some communities observe particular days during this week, February 19-25, in the Christian liturgical year.

On Tuesday, February 21, senior Alex Gallimore will offer a sermon that focuses on a theme central to Shrove Tuesday: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow…” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, Isaiah 22:13, and Luke 12:19). Shrove Tuesday, sometimes called Fat Tuesday, marks the end of revelry associated with carnival or Mardi Gras. Derived from the verb “to shrive,” the day liturgically marks a shift away from feasting toward a season devoted to penitence and confession. During the Middle Ages, penitents “shrove” for an entire season that bore the name “Shriventide.” Shrove Tuesday is known in some circles as Pancake Day because of the practice of eating pancakes in order to consume the household’s sugar, fat, flour, and eggs, all items restricted during the Lenten fast. This Tuesday, the School of Divinity will mark Shrove Tuesday in chapel with a communion service and during community lunch with a feast of pancakes.

On Wednesday, February 22, as part of Project Chapel, the school will observe Ash Wednesday in a service created and led by the spring term’s “Gospel of John” class. Historically and in many Christian communities around the world today, Ash Wednesday marked and marks the start of the holy season of Lent. Scholars connect the roots of Ash Wednesday with the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Both Lent and Yom Kippur emphasize self-reflection and community. The first datable Christian liturgy for Ash Wednesday that includes sprinkling of ashes is from the 10th Century (960 C.E.) in Rome. On Ash Wednesday, continuing the practice of Christian worshippers from earlier centuries and in geographical locales ranging from Rome to Egypt to Africa, Christian worshippers across the U.S. mark their foreheads with ashes even as they mark the outset of a season of reflection and introspection. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Christians enter into Lent’s “40 days.” Why are ashes important for marking the start of Lent? Ashes are an important biblical symbol. In Scripture, ashes, or dust, symbolize frailty or death (Genesis 18:27), judgment (Ezekiel 28:18), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), and repentance (Jonah 3: 6). Ashes are also associated in the bible with fasting (Daniel 9:3 and Isaiah 58:5). Some Christian burial liturgies includes the phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” often spoken as dirt is sprinkled into the gravesite; both the ashes and the dust symbolize the finality of death. Throughout the season of Lent, Christians consider the power and importance of lament, death, and repentance to Christian faith as they look forward to Easter’s promises of resurrection, renewal, and new life.

Pancakes and ashes.  Feasting and fasting. As the School of Divinity marks Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday this week in worship and around meal tables, we can reflect on the rhythms of feasting and fasting that are central to Christianity and to the religious practices of many other faiths. We can also consider the meaning of feast and fast in a world where too many face empty tables; Lent calls us to reflect again on the Christian Gospel’s Easter promises of abundant feasts for all of God’s people. This is perhaps the most palpable outcome of a holy Lent during which worshippers consider what it means to live lives of meaningful sacrifice and redemptive service to others.


Looking Ahead

  • Registration for the Fall 2012 Term is just around the corner; advising begins on March 26. Beginning with next week’s “this week,” look for sneak previews of fall courses.
  • February 22 is the last day to drop courses (with permission).


Grace and peace,

  Jill Crainshaw
  Associate Dean for Academic Affairs




Image Source: (top); (bottom)