In the early days of the church, Lent was a time of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. In preparation for the Lenten fast, the tradition of making pancakes and waffles began as a way of using up perishable ingredients such as milk, eggs, and butter, which were prohibited during Lent. Many Lutheran congregations commemorate the last day before the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday) with a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. Once Lent began, various forms of fasts were implemented. For example, a traditional Medievel Lenten meal consisted of salted fish, thick stews and soups made from vegetables and fish, porridge, and almond "milk".
The modern-day Lenten Soup Supper brings the faith community together to share a light meal of soup and bread, reminiscent of those ancient fasting meals. Many soup recipes consist of light broths, vegetables, noodles, and a little meat. Others are heartier and are made from dried peas and beans. Fan favorites usually include milk, cream, and butter. Thank goodness we no longer restrict these items during Lent!
Although today's Soup Suppers are a time of warm and friendly fellowship usually preceding a Lenten Prayer Service, they also serve as a reminder of those who are in need. By this I mean the simplicity of the meal brings to mind those who have little or nothing to eat.
Soup Suppers also offer the chance to practice almsgiving. Money saved by eating at the Soup Supper can be used to help our brothers and sisters in need. Many Lutheran congregations, including mine, call upon the faith community to donate the meal. Small groups or ministry teams frequently "sponsor" the meal. A basket to collect a free will offering earmarked for social ministry is usually placed near the door. Many also use this as a opportunity to collect non-perishable food items to stock local food pantries.
So where does prayer fit in the Lenten Soup Bowl? First and foremost, the gathered community prays prior to the meal giving thanks to God for "the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us." (author unknown, but recited at a Soup Supper years ago by a little girl 6 or 7 years old). We ask a special blessing on those who have prepared the food and those who serve it. Additonal intercessions are included as needed.
Often Soup Suppers are followed by a Prayer Service also known in some churches as Vespers. My local congregation uses Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer, a lovely liturgical setting using contemporary music and inclusive language. The faith community looks forward to the season of Lent because of their love for this particular Prayer Service. Other Lutheran congregations also use this setting, but there is a wide array of Services available. As Lutherans, we embrace diversity and focus on the things that unite not divide us as God's people.
As we have seen, Soup Suppers cover three of the traditional Lenten practices: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. They truly are Lent In a Soup Bowl!
In His Love,