Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar. Typically on Ash Wednesday, Christians usually kneel and our foreheads are marked with ashes in the shape of a cross. Ashes remind us of the cruel fact of death as often the one delivering the ashes will state, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The ashes on Ash Wednesday serve as a powerful reminder for us of reality. We as a culture tend to avoid the fact of human mortality. We can arrange our lives to avoid thinking about death.
Ash Wednesday confronts us with the truth of the grave. And it is in this truth that the most important questions of our lives begin to surface – who are we and what is life for? We need more than better distractions from our mortality, we need deep, resonant, defiant hope. Lent is a time of heightened consciousness of the coincidence of gift and loss.
Here is an excerpt from the book Lent by Essau McCauley:
Life with God contains the good, the true, and the beautiful. God’s call to repentance is a call to give up those things that can bring only death. Ash Wednesday calls us to remember death, and by calling us to remember death it calls us to remember what causes death: sin and rebellion. By forcing us to remember our sin, it helps us realize that, at bottom, our sins are lies about the true source of joy.
We invite you to practice Lent this season. Lent is a 40 day period that concludes on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, which marks the day of Jesus' crucifixion, and is followed by the celebration of Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus.
Lent is not a season that asks us to wallow in the pain we experience or to sink into guilt over our sins. Instead, Lent is a time to notice the dark places in our lives because God is with us in the darkness and will one day turn our darkness into light.
How we do this will vary in each season of our lives. Some years, a traditional Lenten fast may be exactly what we need to remind ourselves of our dependence on God. Other years, suffering may be so close at hand that we need the reminder that God meets us in our suffering.
This coming Lenten season, feel free to give something up, if it will help you to draw closer to God’s gifts.
But, if giving something up will be, for you, a performance or a temptation to works righteousness or a self-improvement program -- well then, please don’t give something up.
Whatever you do or don't do, we ask that you get in touch with your deepest hunger in this season of Lent. Pay attention to God and the beauties of God's world. Worship, slow down, devour some Scripture, re-create, pray, breathe, and receive love.
We invite you to a variety of recommended resources to help guide you in this season of Lent:
A Just Passion Contributions by Ruth Haley Barton, Sheila Wise Rowe, Tish Harrison Warren, and Terry M. Wildman
Lent by Esau McCaulley
Podcast by Ruth Haley Barton: Episode: A Just Lent: Learning to Love What God Loves
Youtube by N.T. Wright
Blessing the Lent We Already Have