“When you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do ... Wash your face and comb your hair, so that ... only your Father ... will know.” (Matthew 6: 16-18)
While we shiver in February gloom, the streets of Venice will be bright with colour and buzzing with activity as the annual Carnevale celebrations reach their climax in the final few days before the austerity of Lent begins.
It is over 10 years now since I visited Venice during Carnevale, but I vividly remember the excitement of dressing up with costume and mask and going out incognito as people have for hundreds of years.
The Church, predictably, did not always approve of the goings-on that took place under cover of anonymity and laws were brought in to curb the worst excesses.
But Jesus, too, was criticised by the religious people of his day for enjoying himself too much with his friends; eating and drinking instead of fasting like John the Baptist and his disciples.
He said that there was a time for both, and that if we do decide to observe a religious discipline, like fasting, or giving up something for Lent, it should not be to show other people how holy we are – or to lose those excess pounds gained over the festive season – but to bring us closer to God.
So enjoy those pancakes next Tuesday, and make space somewhere over the next few weeks for reflection and prayer.
Rev. Dr J Mary Henderson
Minister at Falkirk: Laurieston Church of Scotland