Shrove Tuesday

Written by Roger Sturrock

“Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

(Joel 2:13)

Pancakes are associated with Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding Lent, because they are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.  Traditionally, Christians repented of their sins on Shrove Tuesday and were granted absolution by the priest – they were “Shriven.”

Nowadays, Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) is associated with tossing pancakes, pancake races and other fun events!

The period of Lent can be a time for Christians to reflect on their Christian faith and their walk with God.    Some use this time to give something up for the period of Lent such as chocolate, alcohol, and even social media! 

However, there is always the danger of “Tokenism” – doing something but not really taking the act seriously.

Ash Wednesday

This is the day when some Christian denominations practice the application of ashes on the foreheads of believers by a priest or pastor who will use the words:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He also may say “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

The lectionary readings for this time take us to the prophesy of Joel in the Old Testament.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
   for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
   a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
   nor will be again after them
   in ages to come.

Joel by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
   return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13   rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
   for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
   and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
   and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
   for the Lord, your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16   gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
   assemble the aged;
gather the children,
   even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
   and the bride her canopy.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
   let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
   and do not make your heritage a mockery,
   a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
   “Where is their God?” 


The first part of Joel’s prophecy deals with a time when the land of Israel was facing a plague of locusts that was likened to a great army.  The plague is represented as a judgement on the nation because of complacency and “tokenism” in the worship of God. 

In Judaism, grief and anger at the loss of a loved one is symbolised by tearing an item of clothing but in the Bible, it can indicate how serious a supposed insult is to God.  When Jesus is brought before the High Priest he is accused of blasphemy, a charge emphasised by the High Priest tearing his clothes (Matt. 26:65.). 

It is easy to make a public gesture to achieve one’s own ends and Joel points out that God does not respond to ‘play acting’ but requires sincerity of heart and mind:

2:13 “rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

Let this verse from Joel be our guide as we embark on our journey through Lent!


  1. What does the season of Lent mean for you?  Think of 3 things and write them down and put your answers in a prominent place to remind you!
  2. What does repent and believe in the Gospel mean for you?
  3. By the time we reach Easter day, what changes would you like to see in your Christian life?


God of feasting, we give you thanks for the richness of life.

As Jesus turned water into wine at wedding,

we think of your desire for all your people to celebrate all our days.

Bless us as we observe the joy of being your people.

Send your Spirit to dance and sing with us.

We know that you created the world and created us in it

You make possible times of joy and moments for reflection.

Enable us to embrace this Pancake ‘Shrove’ Tuesday

in a spirit of celebration of the goodness of your creation.

As we enter the Season of Lent, may it too, be a celebration of life:

of an inward journey of contemplation and wondering,

of confessing and forgiving, of learning and loving.

And in all of this, may we grow closer to Jesus,

to one another, and to You, O Lord.

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wyoming Presbyterian Church, USA

For previous parts of our Journey through Lent go to:

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