Pancake Day goes by another older, less jumping-on-the-money-bandwagon name. I know where the pancakes come in, but wasn’t quite so sure about the “shrove” part of Shrove Tuesday. Shrove? I know that we are on the brink of Lent, the season leading up to Easter and that it’s time of sacrifice. For us it is Jelly baby time – our replacement for all things chocolate. That still doesn’t explain the “shrove”.
Before Lent begins it was necessary to confess sins and receive absolution for them. It's a day of penitence, a time to know and own your sins and pull them out into the daylight. It’s time to be forgiven and to know a clean soul. It’s a day of celebration. The weight of all the wrongness has been lifted and tossed away. That’s the “shrove” bit.
Too many people are consuming their pancakes without being “shriven”. The holiday has lost its heart and soul and no one has noticed. Sims are not confessed and absolved these days but talked through and labelled, understood and perhaps excused.
This morning I was watching on old DVD with some young friends. “After Apartheid” followed the journey of a white police officer as he returned to a village where he had massacred eleven people. He had thought a meeting of black rebels was in progress in a house. Shots were fired through the window and the door kicked, all guns blazing. It was the wrong house. The police officer was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Then apartheid ended. A new government was sworn in. Decisions were made abut what do with the prison population whose crimes had been politically motivated.
This is the “shrove” bit. Prisoners were given the opportunity to confess their sins. If they were prepared to tell the truth of their involvement in the violence and death inflicted in the name of apartheid, they had the chance of amnesty and being released.
We weighed up every word spoken by the police officer, and every word not spoken. Had I been heading back to that village I would have done my homework. I would have known the names of every person killed that day and the names of every person that had been present, giving evidence at my trial. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name,” would not have been an option. The villagers shed tears while he remained “sorry” but dry eyed. We were cynical enough to wonder how sincere the apology was or his intention to redress the balance. He had been facing a life sentence and now, just by telling it as it was, he was about to be released after serving four years. Four years seemed too little a price to pay for ending eleven lives. Was he genuinely penitent? We also observed that he probably got off quite lightly too because of the camera crew filming it all. How would he had fared if no one was filming?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that set Brian Mitchell, the white police officer, on his journey of repentance. Tutu had to listen through so many stories of the horrendous things one man did to another that day in day out his heart was being broken over and over again.
The confession and absolution, the really letting go and the really being forgiven, the release, the freedom, the knowing of our burdens slipping from our shoulders – that is the start of Lent, not the finishing point. Lent with all its sacrifices is not about earning the forgiveness and the release from guilt and pain. We cannot earn forgiveness. We can only accept it and live in the good of it.
The Lent journey tells me who forgave me, why and the price paid.