This week Lent begins – the 40 days before Easter. On Wednesday many churches hold Ash Wednesday services. This service, being utilized by more and more denominations, originated in the 10th century.
Lent is a time to turn our hearts to God, giving thanks for the sacrifice of His son and acknowledging our own sins and limitations. We repent and like the Prodigal Son return once again to a forgiving, loving Lord.
Ashes refer to the Biblical practice of mourning. Though the actually Ash Wednesday custom is not mentioned in the Bible, the use of ashes in grief is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21. We grieve our sinfulness during Lent.
Ashes symbolize dust-to-dustness and remind us of the need for cleansing, scrubbing and purifying. If they are applied during an act of kneeling, the very posture of defeat and submission expresses humility before God. We are marked by the Cross of Jesus.
In my church and many others, the ashes come from the burning of the palms we used on Palm Sunday. We joined the crowds that day cheering the incoming King that we all soon forgot or worse, condemned in our lack of faith and unworthiness.
During this Wednesday evening service, usually the pastor takes the ashes on the end of his thumb and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of each worshiper, saying these words: “Remember: you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Not a pretty sight, is it – dust and ashes? Yet God, the Almighty Creator, took dust in His hands and made us, breathing His spirit of life into humankind. God makes dust/ashes a beautiful and beloved masterpiece.
Lent is a period of self-examination and repentance. Though this may sound depressing, in reality, it represents the joyous homecoming for us, as prodigals, reuniting with God. We pause and look at our lives, asking: where is God inviting me to grow spiritually?
Many people practice fasting during Lent or giving something up like chocolate or soda. One year I gave us being critical (That was a challenge!); another I listed 40 people (for the 40 days of Lent) that I prayed for each day.
This year instead of doing something, I feel God is leading me to BE. Be fully present, loving the person right in front of me whether that person is a family member, the clerk at the checkout counter or the person I really don’t like. I am easily distracted and tend to live in the future, not the present, so this will be an intentional and challenging practice. But I am going to try to BE PRESENT for others, deeply listening, loving, and lifting them up into God’s heart and hands.
“We cannot become truly good in a better, more marvelous, and yet easier way than by the simple use of the means offered us by God: the ready acceptance of all that comes to us at each moment of our lives.” — Jean Pierre de Caussade quoted in The Inner Treasure by Jonathan Star.
How is God calling you during Lent?