“Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV)
As part of the Jewish observance of Passover, (Exodus 12:1-28) everyone is supposed to clear out all the leavened bread (including bread starters) in their kitchen, which sounds like a weird thing to do- why would God tell people to throw out food?- but it has a symbolic significance.
Today is “Shrove Tuesday”- the last day before Lent in the church year. In some traditions it is also “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday, a day to get rid of all of one’s tempting food and get one’s vices out of our systems before Lent begins.
Most people today don’t bake their own bread. Those of us who do (and then only for special occasions) generally buy powdered yeast to mix in with the dough so that it will rise, and the whole batch of dough is used at once, but in ancient times there was no powdered yeast. In order to keep the yeast cultures going, ancient bakers kept a bit of the dough back from the previous batch of bread to leaven the next batch, in the same way that people might make and use starters for sourdough bread today.
Anyone who has ever dealt with sourdough starters knows when a starter has gone south. A pink or slimy appearance or a bad smell can indicate that the starter is contaminated with bacteria or mold, and then it needs to be thrown out, and then all the utensils and such that touched it need to be thoroughly washed. If one uses a contaminated starter, any bread baked with it won’t taste good, and the finished bread (if it did actually rise) could also contain rather disgusting things such as salmonella, other bacterias and fungi that aren’t healthy to be consumed.
It was a good idea from time to time for people (especially in the days before refrigeration) to clear out the old bread and starters and start fresh.
Our lives are sort of like that baking cycle too. Every once in awhile, we need to go clear out the kitchen and get rid of the stuff that’s potentially dangerous, that might make us sick, the stuff that clutters up the cabinets and gets in the way. This is what the apostle Paul is talking about, only in spiritual terms.
We always need to examine our thought patterns and confess that we don’t always bring them captive to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) More often than not, we resort to the old ways of doing things- instead of letting the things that interfere with our life in Christ go.
The rotten stuff, the contaminated thought patterns, have to be thrown out. We occasionally have to take out the spiritual trash.
The practice of confession is a good spiritual discipline in the season of Lent. Today is a good day to start to clear out the old ways and to bring in those that bring glory to God.
“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NRSV)
Confessing our sins, one believer to another, in a context of forgiveness and prayer, is a good first step in throwing out that old starter and bad bread.
Lord, help us to search and be willing to throw out all the things in our hearts and minds that are not of You. Help us to pray for and with believing friends, so that we may think and behave as Your followers should.
“(Jesus said:) For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)