Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, Lent has been observed by the Church as a 40 day period of preparation for that most sacred time in the Church Year, Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
In many ancient cultures, there is a time-honored custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income toward holy use. For Christians, observing the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of the days of our year. Hence, it is the intentional setting aside of a season in our schedules for holy use, marked by serious and consistent spiritual reflection, abstinence and fasting, caring for the poor, and a clear intent to refrain from sin, particularly habitual sin.
So then, Lent is a serious and sober time in the calendar of the Christian church where we are all urged toward a greater reality of our limitations and our sinfulness. It is meant to kindle in us a “bright sadness” where we take stock of our relationship with Christ, recognize our failures, remember our deepest longings, and renew our hope in our Lord. Therefore, do not be surprised when you notice a more somber tone in the prayers, songs, sermons, and liturgy on Sunday mornings. For example, after this Sunday, “Alleluias!” will strikingly disappear from our lips as we intentionally turn from rejoicing to repentance. They will not return until Easter morning when we celebrate our risen Lord.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Our Ash Wednesday services this week, for instance, remind us, lest we forget, that we are a frail and inadequate. A priest marks our foreheads with ashes, a reminder of our mortal nature. The words spoken during the imposition of the ashes are:
Remember, O Man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.
These are the same words first spoken by God on the day of the fall in Genesis 3:19. They echo down the long corridor of the centuries: “Remember! You are dust! To dust you will return!” We live with this reality ever before us.
Thanks be to God, this is not where the story ends! While Lent begins with the reminder of our finitude it points us, it sends us off towards that great victory our Lord won in his Resurrection on Easter Sunday! This is why the ashes (marks of mortality) are placed on your forehead in the form of a cross to remind you and all who see you that though you will surely die there is One over whom death has NO claim. And His death is the destruction of death itself, the wiping out of sin, and the promise of unending life.
As we approach Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, begin to meditate on the Collect for Ash Wednesday below. Consider your life and your relationship with the Living God. Ask him to enable you to give this season in your life over to him for his most holy use.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
-Rev. David Hyman
(Initially published on BlackBeans.)