Today is Ash Wednesday. This marks the first day of Lent (a 46 day season in the Christian calendar). This is the season that leads us to Easter. As Advent is to Christmas so Lent is to Easter.
Dismissing Sundays (as the fast is not recognized on the day we celebrate the resurrection), Lent is 40 days and it is meant to reflect Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. During this time Jesus fasted and faced temptation from Satan before beginning his” formal ministry.” For the Christian, this is also a time of fasting, temptation, preparation, as we draw near to the Father who has called us to him. As we commit ourselves to fasts we also dedicate ourselves to prayer.
In worship services centered on this important day we don ashes upon the forehead as a reminder of our mortality. This is also symbolic of mourning, confession, and repentance before God. In scripture and through church history, people would cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes during times of mourning and repentance. The ashes traditionally are made from burning the previous year’s palms used on Palm Sunday (this is rarer in protestant and western traditions).
Lent is meant to help us journey to Jesus’ cross, burial, and resurrection. It is a time to follow him as he ministers to us, making us aware of who we are, who’s we are, and who we should look to for salvation. During Lent we closely follow Jesus and listen to his teachings. We walk with him to his death and find our own death. In walking with Jesus while fasting and praying we discover our frailty as created beings and discover our own sinfulness. When Lent ends on Easter we see the full victory of Jesus over sin and death as we wipes away all impurity and beckons us to join him past the path of dirt leading to the cross and death and into to resurrection and eternity.
If your congregation doesn't hold an Ash Wednesday service, I encourage you to find a local congregation that does so that you might partake in this beautiful tradition.