Ash Wednesday is a special time in the life of the church because it forces us to confront our brokenness and sin. This can sound depressing…which is why more people celebrate Mardi Gras then Ash Wednesday. The ashes we receive on our forehead are a symbol of own mortality and sin. Ashes represented mourning and repentance in the Old Testament. They reminded people that death and sin are very real. They remind us of the truth found in Romans 3: “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.” And Romans 6: “The wages of sin is death.” We are people who have messed up. We have gone our own way, pursued our own happiness, and in the process destroyed our own souls. We have separated ourselves from the very One who loves us and gives us life.
Hebrews 4 puts it this way: “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.” This is a scary verse. This verse and Ash Wednesday remind us that we have all been busted. We are all exposed. Nothing we have or haven’t done is known by God. We may hide it from others, but nothing is hidden from God. This is bad news. No wonder most people skip Lent and go straight to Easter. We don’t want to think about our own sin…we don’t want to think about our death. We don’t like ashes.
But here’s the good news. I want to finish with a promise. Here’s the second part of the verse from Hebrews: “This is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” In most Ash Wednesday services we have Holy Communion right after receiving the ashes. Communion reminds us that death and sin do not have the last word. Communion reminds us that through Christ, our great High Priest, we have been given the gift of everlasting life. So may this Lenten season be a time of renewal…a time of change…a time of focus…and most of all a time of clinging…a season where we cling and trust our gracious Savior.
Here is some info on Ash Wednesday and Lent...
Where does the concept of Lent come from? At Jesus' baptism the sky split open, the Spirit of God, which looked like a dove, descended and landed on Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, My Beloved, with whom I am pleased." Afterward, as told in Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus hiked into the wilderness where he spent forty days to fast and pray. While he was there, he was tempted by Satan and found the strength to resist sin.
What does Lent have to do with me? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of work, school, relationships, and family. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol or other things. We run from silence because we're afraid of being alone with God. So, like Jesus, we need to take some serious time to pray and figure out where God is in our lives, and where God is calling us to serve. We need to re-focus our lives to be more in line with God.
How do Christians celebrate Lent? It's different in different traditions. But generally it's a time to return to Christ by cutting out all that distracts us. For some people that means giving up something like candy, TV, or soft drinks as a way to purify their bodies and lives. Others take something on and collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to help children, or decide to be kind to someone they don't like. Whatever "stuff" is given up or taken on, the intent must be to draw us closer to Christ. Lent is a resolution to simplify our lives, and to return to the One who loves us -- Jesus.
So the real beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday? Yes. Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, usually begins with a service where we recognize our mortality, repent of our sins, and return to our Loving God. We recognize life as a precious gift from God, and re-turn our lives towards Jesus Christ. We may make resolutions and commit to change our lives over the next forty days so that we might be more like Christ. In an Ash Wednesday service, usually a minister or priest marks the sign of the cross on a person's forehead with ashes.
Why ashes? In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/ dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance:, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
Cool Things To Do for Lent:
(1) Fast one day a week. (2) Start a prayer "rhythm." Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, see a commercial, or check your e-mail. (3) Read a chapter in the Bible a day (Mark is a good book to start with). (4) Give up cokes or sweets. (5) Spend ten minutes a day in silence. (6) Begin every morning with prayer. (7) Journal every day. (8) Give up secular music and/or TV for certain days. (9) Write a thank you letter each week. (10) Say one nice thing to someone each day. (11) Pray for others on your way to work or school. (12) Commit to keeping the Sabbath. Attend church, rest, and pray. (13) Commit to volunteering at the church or with helping out around the house.