I can’t believe it is almost time for Lent to begin. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday marking the first day of solemn repentance for most Christians as we turn our hearts and minds toward Good Friday. Then we can celebrate with full gusto on Easter Sunday.
Ever wonder about Ash Wednesday? Here are five quick facts about this day:
1. On Ash Wednesday, many churches hold a special worship service where the people are blessed with ashes, typically marking their foreheads with the sign of the cross. The blessing typically comes with a reminder that we all come from ashes, and to ashes we all will return.
2. The marking of the forehead has been a known custom since Pope Gregory the Great in 604. It has been said to have a two fold purpose, one being the ashes were marked for humility and mortality and then also for sorrow and repentance.
In the 12th century the rule developed that the ashes were to be created by burning palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. Many parishes today invite parishioners to bring such palms to church before Lent begins and have a ritual burning of the palms after Mass.
3. The custom of repenting with ashes was not an original Christian act, as the earliest Jews often sat on the ground in the rubble of ashes and spread it over themselves in order to express their sorrow for their poor deeds unto the world.
4. Ash Wednesday is a movable feast falling of different dates each year depending on the date of Easter.
5. The day before is called Shrove Tuesday. Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren’t allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs, which were forbidden during Lent. My local church always has a pancake supper that night.
The name Shrove comes from the old word “shrive” which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began.
Here are seven thought provoking quotes for you to ponder as we enter Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
“The real question of the Lenten season is how will I clear out the junk and garbage in my life so that I can be restored to God in some fresh way?
What are the disciplines that will open up space for God to create a clean heart and new spirit in me?”
Ruth Haley Barton
“We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ.
“A few wise words echoing through Ash Wednesday urge me to deeper things:
and mindful awareness.
I leave marveling at how simple and sublime is this envelope of the soul, which one day return to dust, dust, only dust.”
Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem.
We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.
What does God do with dust and ash?
He grows things out of them.
He covers them with purple raiments.
He lifts people out of them.
He unfairly accepts them in exchange for beauty.
He writes mysterious things in them.
He spits in them and uses the mud to give sight.
He washes them off your stinky feet.
He breathes into them and creates new life.
He descends into them, submits to their suffocation, and emerges alive and spotless.
When you return to dust, even if your body should be burnt to ashes and scattered over the four winds, he who is the Lord over the earth will be able to collect you, reconstitute you, and resurrect you into a body fit for eternity.
Lent a spring-cleaning time for the soul. As I prepared to enter this season, I am seeking to let go of obstacles that block me from God and to renew my spirit by bathing in His light and spirit.
How will you refresh your spirit during Lent?