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Pancakes

Pancakes

Did you have pancakes for tea last Tuesday? It was, of course Shrove Tuesday on 16th February this year. We don’t seem to make as much of it as we used to. When our children were young, we couldn’t get away without pancakes that day. There were attempts at pancake tossing (dad was always best); no matter how careful with the frying pan, the kitchen became filled with smoke, and fingers quickly became sticky (golden syrup was the favourite spread). This year, with just the two of us, Barbara and I didn’t bother. Perhaps we’ve become sad old pancakephobes.

At one time it was universally observed, an important moment in the Christian year. It was a last “blow out” of rich food (eggs and milk were once “rich”) before the start of Lent. It was an “on your marks, get set” kind of day, for the journey to Easter which started the following morning on Ash Wednesday. It was primarily Shrove Tuesday, when Christians would be “shriven” through confession at church to be absolved from their sins before the start of Lent.

Many Christians still celebrate these traditions but they are not as universal as they once were. On Ash Wednesday the faithful receive a cross of ashes mixed with water, pasted on their forehead by the finger a priest. This begins Lent, a 40 day period of fasting which ends on Easter Saturday (this makes 46 days, but the six Sundays of Lent are “days off”). Fasting nowadays consists of giving up some luxury such as chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, smoking (even social media? shock horror!) for the duration. In the past though, fasting meant just that: abstaining from food during the day, much like Muslims during Ramadan. The purpose of Lent is to prepare the believer for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, simple living and self-denial. The origin of Lent is unknown; it appeared in the early centuries after Christ and was recognised at the Council of Nicea, after which it became an official practice.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we do not celebrate Lent, nor should we; it is not taught in the New Testament and was not part of the original Church. However, I think it a pity that the practice has become diluted among many Christians who accept it. The principle of Lent is a good one: that of preparing for Easter by making an effort to draw closer to him in our daily lives. Religious faith is under pressure from rationalism, and the influence of the secular world is relentless. Christmas is dominated by Santa Claus, Easter is chocolate eggs and the Easter Bunny, and Shrove Tuesday is about pancakes.

Sadly, we hear of Christians and even priests who no longer believe in the virgin birth, and still less the atoning sacrifice and literal resurrection of Christ. This is not a new trend. During the war, between 1941-44, C. S. Lewis, the famous lay theologian and writer of the Narnia books gave a series of wireless broadcasts on faith. He said this:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say . . . You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse . . . let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 1952)

You will be unsurprised that this statement has been vigorously attacked by intellectuals and philosophers, and even fellow Christians, for both content and structure. What critics seem to miss though, is that Lewis was not trying to convince us by rational argument; he was expressing his faith. Allow me to do the same. I don’t object to Father Christmas and the happiness he brings, nor even chocolate Easter eggs and pancakes; I love them and they have a place. But let me set them aside for a moment and clearly declare my own faith.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was born of a virgin, who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived a perfect life. He ministered in the Holy Land for three years, doing good, performing miracles, and establishing a Church. He atoned for the sins of the world, beginning with the agony of Gethsemane and finishing in death on the Cross of Calvary. His dead body was laid in a tomb. After three days his spirit and body were united eternally and he rose from the dead. As a result of his resurrection, we will all be resurrected. Through faith in him, we may also be exalted. This isn’t new; it has always been the foundation of Christianity but sadly, it seems we are joined in these beliefs by a diminishing group of Christians. I believe it with all my heart, as do members of my Church.

We also have a unique belief. The original Church that Jesus established was lost after the death of the apostles and over time doctrinal purity was compromised. Joseph Smith experienced a vision of the Father and Son in answer to prayer and received authority to restore Christ’s Church. We believe our Church is God’s Church on earth and that salvation comes only through this Church. We reach out to all churches in friendship, love and cooperation. We see no reason why differences of belief should prevent people of goodwill from being friends. If you are reading this and are not of my faith, I hope you will join us, but if not I hope you will be our friends.

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