I woke up this Thursday morning with a faint shadow of ashes on my forehead and a dusting of snow on the ground outside. More snow is falling. The sheep are out in the field, still in their full winter wool. But today, in just a few hours, they are scheduled to be sheared.
It can seem a cruel thing to shear sheep while it’s snowing. But the reality is that spring is on the way, and their bodies will adapt quickly to being without the thick wool. They will be fine. But if they held on to their coats for the sake of a few more days of comfort, the spring rains and summer heat would quickly weigh them down. By July we would all be regretting the short-sighted decisions of March.
My shearer is bringing a young friend along with him today. The youngster will be the one to catch the wiley sheep and bring them to the waiting shears. We can use that kind of energy on the farm. As the saying goes, “None of us is getting any younger.”
All of which brings me to the title of my post.
Much of the world knows about Mardi Gras, also called Carnival, or Fat Tuesday. It is a day (or season) for reveling. It is a time of overindulgence, in anticipation of the season of, well, “under indulgence” to come.
And another name for Mardi Gras is Shrove Tuesday.
“Shrove“ is the past tense of the Old English word “shrive,” and means to express remorse, or in more liturgical terms, to confess one’s sins. It is the first step in letting go of the past, and turning toward life. In many ways, that church word represents the essence of spring, which is all about new life.
Shrove Tuesday leads us into the mystery of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
In the church world, on Ash Wednesday we are invited to lay our burdens down. We receive “the imposition of ashes,” oil mixed with fine cinders usually made from the burning of greens from last spring’s Palm Sunday, and placed in the shape of a cross on one’s forehead.
Yesterday, while I placed ashes on the forehead of those who came for the blessing, I recited the traditional ancient words: “Remember that you are made from dust, and to dust you shall return.“ I offered my congregation and myself a moment to look clearly at our own mortality, and in that looking, to recognize that life is brief. None of us is getting any younger.
We are human. We have limits. We have places of brokenness and failure. Life is not always “Mardi Gras.”
But even in our brokenness, God meets us like some divine shearer, inviting us to let go of the old coats and old comforts that no longer serve us. We can step into new life. We live surrounded by the grace of God. At any moment we can pause and say thanks for beauty and blessing as well.
That is why I always add my own words to the ashes anointing– “yet held eternally the love of God.”
Today my sheep will be experiencing their own “shrove” day of letting go. I too am letting go of things for Lent. Perhaps you are as well. It is a letting go for the sake of new life, new growth, new awareness.
This second day of Lent in fact can be shrove Thursday for any of us. Another day of confession, of turning, of renewing. Like my sheep freshly shorn, I can know at any moment that life is brisk, bracing, uncomfortable, disorienting, invigorating, short, real, and full of grace.