Tuesday 21 February 2012

Pancake Tuesday

Today is Pancake Tuesday, which, believe it or not, has its roots in a Christian tradition called Lent. How cool is that!

Lent describes the forty-day period of time leading up to Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. Traditionally, Christians would fast and abstain from rich food (like Oreos) for that whole season of Lent.

Now this posed a problem (though it was a good kind of problem). What if you had a big stash of double-chocolate Oreos in the kitchen cupboard? This is where they came up with this awesomely cool tradition of having one special day when you had to finish up all the sugar, butter, milk and eggs in the fridge, before the season of fasting began. Back then, they didn't know how to make Oreos, of course. So instead, they mixed up all the ingredients to make lots and lots of pancakes. Thus was born, Pancake Tuesday (Though Oreos Tuesday would have equally been way awesome)!

In some countries, Pancake Tuesday is called Fat Tuesday. You might know it better as Mardi Gras (which is simply the French translation of Fat Tuesday), a big street party with parades, carnivals and fancy dress in cities like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. In other words, Fat Tuesday/ Mardi Gras/ Pancake Tuesday or whatever you might call it, is seen as a time to cut loose and to celebrate!

Feasting and fasting

And yet, the whole reason for all this feasting in the first place, is the fasting that followed immediately afterwards: excess on one day, abstinence the next. That is kind of strange, isn't it? Because often times, you find people advocating either one or the other - not both!

This reminds me of an incident when Jesus used both feasting and fasting in an illustration about what he came to do, but also the excuses that people often gave to ignore what he came to do. He says this is Matthew's Gospel:

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Matthew 11:18-19

John the Baptist came not eating and not drinking. That's abstinence. Jesus came eating and drinking and (from his critics' perspective) that was excessive. Jesus' point was: both were rejected. Both were used as a excuses to ignore what God was saying to them.

Some people always have something to complain about (some of you have a relative like that, or you're married to a husband who is just like that). They are always annoyed with something. They are always complaining about someone. Either it's the teenagers who are being such a nuisance in church. Or the pastor's sermon was too long. Or the music was too loud (or the music wasn't loud enough).

Jesus was talking about people who were constantly looking for reasons to ignore God's message to them, to the extent that they would demonise God's messengers. That's what they said about John the Baptist, "He has a demon." Today, they might have called John a fundamentalist - someone who was too fanatical about his faith; too extreme about what he believed about God.

With Jesus however, the critics took a different approach. They took one look at Jesus as saw a rotten apple; a bad example. "Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard!" "He can't be a Christian. He smokes! He goes to the pub! He watches Nicholas Cage movies!" Worse of all, Jesus hung out with the wrong crowd. He was "a friend of tax collectors and sinners". His Facebook friends weren't all Christians attending his local church. Most of them posted photos that would instantly get them kicked out of church. Many of them had never stepped into a church building in their entire lives.

Hearing wisdom, tasting goodness

Yet notice how Jesus ends. It is a very strange thing, that he says in verse 19: "Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." Jesus is saying that these actions actually prove that he is right. His actions, or deeds, are "justified".

It is a good thing for Christians to fast, not simply because fasting is good for you (that is, you are trying to lose weight or you are dealing with a bad habit like Facebook), but because the act of fasting carries with it an important message of fasting. My God is not my stomache. Chocolate, though heavenly, isn't heaven. And the excessive worship of chocolate, sex, TV and Facebook will spoil my appetite for the one thing that can satisfy my soul: God himself.

Similarly, it is good thing for Christians to eat pancakes - even, lots of pancakes, with syrup, chocolate sprinkles topped with Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice-cream - but not simply because these are good gifts from from a generous God and are amazingly delicious, but because this feast of pancakes point to an even greater feast to come. Jesus repeatedly described heaven as a banquet (or if you're Asian, an all-you-can-eat Tim Sum buffet). It is a big celebration with food. And repeatedly in the bible, as his critics rightly noted, Jesus often ate his pancakes with tax collectors and "sinners". They were his friends.

What will you be doing this Pancake Tuesday? You could eat pancakes (duh!) and if so, why not invite your good friends along, and maybe even, a few of your no-so-good friends. Or you could fast. That's actually OK, too.

But what I hope you will not do, is absolutely nothing. For even now, God is using Pancake Day to speak to you - which I'll admit, the word "pancake" is nowhere in the bible - but what Jesus is saying is this: God is speaking the message of his Son in feasting and fasting; in all situations of your life and my life, to get us to listen up. Jesus says, "He who has an ear, let him hear" (verse 15). Our temptation is to ignore it, to find fault with it, to demonise it, to dismiss it. Don't do that. Hear the wisdom of God, taste the goodness of God and see the power of God in Jesus Christ, his Son.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 
1 Corinthians 1:22-24

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