Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Days like Ash Wednesday and seasons like Lent are unknown to many Christians today, and foreign to those outside the church. It can be an odd sight to walk into the grocery store and see people walking around with Ashes on their foreheads.
I believe these more historic traditions of the church are wonderful times to teach Christians and Non-Christians alike about where the Christian Church has been in our history, and why we observe the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (46 days if you count Sundays) before Easter, starting on Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is focused on our mortality. I know, that sounds weird. No matter how much we work to keep it from happening, the truth is at some point every one of us is going to die. Our human bodies do not live forever. We do our best to keep ourselves healthy, fight diseases, and keep ourselves around long enough to see our kids have kids of their own. In the end though, we will die.
When I invited everyone this morning to come forward to receive their Ashes this morning I said to them:
We begin our Lenten observance by using the centuries –old symbol of ashes. By this we are reminded of our own frailty and mortality and our call to humility and penitence.
The congregation responded with this prayer:
Almighty God, You have created us out of the dust of the earth. May these ashes be to us a sign of our mortality, that we may remember that it is only by Your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life. Amen.
Death is not something that we should fear, because today, on Ash Wednesday, we start our preparation for Easter. On Easter, Christ defeated death when he rose again and promised us that one day we too will rise again. These bodies will turn into ash one day, but those ashes will not be the final state of these bodies when we trust the gift of grace that Christ has given us.
Season of Lent
The Season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter Sunday. In the Early Church, new Christian converts were always presented for baptism and intention into the church on Easter Sunday. The entire church, including the converts, would fast and pray for the 40 days (plus the 6 Sundays) leading up to Easter as a way of preparing for the celebration of Christ's resurrection.
On Easter Sunday, those converts would be baptized. This allowed them to join Christ in his baptism, death, and resurrection. Now, all one Christian body, they would all celebrate the wonderful news of Christ's power in this world and the next.
When we spend the time over Lent to fast and pray, we spend time focusing on God and all that he has given us in this life. God wants us to be New Creations in him. He wants us to die to our old sinful selves so we can be Redeemed and Holy people who walk in this life with him daily. A yearly reminder of this, paired with the dedication from the 6-weeks of prayer and fasting, is a wonderful way to focus on Christ and what is coming.
How Will You Prepare?
How will you prepare for Easter this year? Are you willing to fast and pray for the next 6 weeks? What will be your devotional practices as you look towards the cross and Christ's resurrection?
I'd like to challenge you to consider this seriously. Don't just give up something minuscule in your life so you can say you did it. Really pray about what has control over you and release it to God, so that he can be the one that controls your life. If you didn't get a chance to read the Awakening book by Stovall Weems with us in January, I encourage you to read it now. Consider fasting for the first time, even if it's just for Holy Week. Challenge yourself to go deeper with God.