February 21st is Ash Wednesday.Â Â It begins the season of Lent – the 40 days preceding Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.Â I found a website that offered some good information about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
We don’t know much about how the first-century Christians treated the forty days before Resurrection Sunday. But by the second century, the church was starting to use that season as a time for training new believers about how to rightly think, live, and believe as Christians.Â . . .Â This was done, in part, by reliving the Scriptural accounts of Christ’s final time before He was killed. It was done with the whole church community as they, too, relived it. The end of that period was Holy Week, and Easter would be the day that the new believers would be baptized into the Church. As the Roman world became mostly Christian and more people had already been baptized as children, the seasonÂ . . . began to take on a different meaning, one that would be of great value for new and long-time Christians alike. It would become a time for looking at the depth of one’s own sin, and turning away from them. A time for learning what it means to follow Christ, and to listen to the Spirit. A time for actually going about changing one’s ways to be more as Christ would have them be. . . .
And for that reason many Christians decide to “give up” something for the 40 days of Lent.Â I remember once – probably about 20 years ago – when I was very much addicted to the soap opera “All My Children”, I gave up the show for forty days.Â After Easter, when I finally watched the show again, the storyline had moved forward very little.Â It wasn’t too much longer before I gave up watching it entirely.Â I learned quickly through my 40 days of going without it – just how little substance there was to it.
Â When we deny ourselves things we enjoy, we strenghten our own will so we do not become slaves to the things we like. This exercise helps strengthen us spiritually. It makes us sacrifice. By giving up something that isn’t sinful helps us give up things or not do things that are. It also helps us to keep our priorties straight.
Most of what is done and learned in Lent is true for the rest of the year, too, but with a different feel. Most people couldn’t even dream of keeping their intense focus all year on what Jesus did and what we’re to do with that. Forty days is long enough not to be short-term, but too short to be thought of as a substitute for year-round Christian living. A short burst, such as forty days, can go a long way. But only for those who make some hard decisions.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (in 2007, that’s 21 February). The tone of worship and church life changes starting with the worship services of that day, all the way to Palm Sunday, and then again to Easter. Gone are exuberant praise (even “Glory!” and “Alleluia”), loud music, and sermons about joy, pride, politics, authority, evangelism, fund-raising, or building programs. The feeling is subdued, with a pensive hush, in awe of God, in sharp awareness of how each of us — and all of us together — are not as God calls us to be, and because of that, will eventually die. We are not masters of our lives but are instead subject to the tides of life and are thus much less than God. It’s good practice to wear simple clothing in subdued colors and grays, without frills or jewelry (though perhaps we should resist going over-the-top, such as going to Sunday services wearing the real clothing of Lent : ash-covered sackcloth). In liturgical churches, and more of other churches each year, Ash Wednesday is marked by the ancient rite of the imposition of ashes (dating back at least 1000 to 1200 years). At the start of the Ash Wednesday service, the believers are asked to come forward to the altar. The minister dips his/her thumb into a small tin of ashes (burnt from last year’s Palm Sunday palms, with a drop of olive oil), and with it marks onto each person’s forehead the sign of the cross, saying the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (from Ecclesiastes 3:20).Â . . .Â It is the season to be focused on turning from wrong-doing and dedicating anew to the kind of life Jesus taught us to live.
RT and I had planned on attending the Ash Wednesday service at our church tomorrow evening.Â However, we will be babysitting the grandgirls since their daddy will be having minor surgery early the next morning.Â So we will spend the evening being Grandma Carol and PawPaw instead.Â And that is good.
What to give up for Lent.Â I know what I am planning to do for the next 40 days as my personal “sacrifice.”Â In our world today, there are few things that are truly sacrifices that we can make.