Ash Wednesday 2nd March
Many Christians attend special church services on Ash Wednesday, where the priest places ashes of repentance, in a sign of the cross, on the forehead of participants whilst reciting words from the Book of Genesis; Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return. The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday celebrations.
Ashes are mentioned a lot in the Old Testament, and it is there that Ash Wednesday has its beginning. Ashes were often referred to as a sign of mourning for personal and national disasters and prayers for God’s guidance. Ashes also remind us of the temporary nature of our bodies.
One of my favourite Old Testament scriptures tells us that Jesus will replace our ashes with a garland; ‘to give them a garland instead of ashes’. Isaiah 61:3 NRSV. Which means Jesus will replace our sorrows and death with something wonderful and beautiful.
What does Lent mean?
The word Lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning to lengthen and refers to the lengthening days of spring in the Western hemisphere. The forty days of Lent represent the forty days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the devil.
In the early church, this was a time for new converts to fast, pray, and reflect before their baptism at Easter. It gradually evolved into something all Christians were encouraged to do before Easter.
Lent lasts forty days (not counting Sundays), starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Day. It is a time for practising self-discipline in a chosen area, reflecting on Christ’s death and resurrection, and reinforcing our relationship with God.
The mood is lightened somewhat by Mothering Sunday, which in the UK falls halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter Day.
Reflection on Ash Wednesday and Lent
Ash Wednesday is a time to contemplate life’s fragility and mortality. It is a time when we can pause and review our lives and relationship with God.
When someone close to us dies, we grieve their loss as we reflect on their lives. So too, Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on ways we are lost in our lives. Perhaps we have unresolved grievances with a loved one, have been unwise with money, or have let our prayer life lapse.
Whatever it is, we are all lost to some extent, and somehow, something gets in between us and God and damages our relationship to a small or greater degree.
Lent is a time when we can carefully examine ourselves and plan for ways to repair any damaged areas in our lives and improve our commitment to living a Christian life as well as we can.
It is like making New Year Resolutions – only we could call them Holy Resolutions.