This week we celebrate Ash Wednesday. I knew the basics about this first step in the Lenten season but found a few surprises when I dug deeper into its background.
As early as the mid-fourth century, Christians have observed a time of preparation before the Easter celebration. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. The forty days of Lent recall the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:1-2) and Moses' 40 day fast on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). It is a time of simplicity and preparation.
The principal themes of Lent are repentance, baptismal renewal, prayer, fasting, and service to others.
In my Lutheran church we bring back the palms we used last Palm Sunday, burn them and use them for the ashes used on Ash Wednesday. Why ashes? Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, often mentioned in the Bible (e.g., Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.
The Ash Wednesday Invitation
I want the ashes to go deeper this year. Mark the sign of the cross inward on my heart, not outward on my forehead.
Lent often is a time to give up something to remind us all what God gave up when He sent Jesus to die and rise again for us.
This year I will give up time spent on others things, worldly distractions, in order to have more room for God in my life. Often I rush through my morning devotions and dash off prayers as I work. I am hungry for more.
I plan to read the Gospel of John throughout Lent and found this wonderful guide at The Practical Disciple. This site has other interesting resources on Lent.
I also am going to fast from criticalness. My sharp tongue and judgmental attitude pricks my conscious and I know I am not Christlike when I allow my insensitivity to rule in my heart. Think before I speak and pray before I act. And not just silence. I feel a call to be more mindful to encourage others. A Lenten lull sprinkled with a huge dose of encouragement for others.
The ashes remind me to reflect on who I am and Whose I am.
The ashes help me remember to let go things that clutter and block my relationship with God.
The ashes prompt me to turn over my frailty and imperfections to God and praise Him for sending us a Savior.
The ashes invite me to return and draw closer to the One who loves each of us and wants a deeper relationship with us.
May my ego crumble like ashes as God embraces my human heart with His love.
What are your plans for Ash Wednesday and Lent this year?