Lent is heavy. Lent is serious. It is a time of reflection and self-analysis and intentional consideration of what we believe and stand for as Christians. But, as dark as this sounds, if we do Lent right, we will emerge in 40 days with a renewed understanding of the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and a renewed trust in God’s sovereignty in the light of the greatest spectacle and celebration that the universe has ever known: Easter.
SO, WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.
WHEN IS LENT?
It’s the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it’s about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Mardi Gras is the day before Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday.
In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/ dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear “sackcloth” (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
WHERE DO THE ASHES COME FROM?
On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem while people waved palms and cheered him on. Less than a week later, Jesus was killed. The palms that were waved in joy became ashes of sorrow. We get ashes for Ash Wednesday by saving the palms from Palm Sunday, burning them, and mixing them with a little water (like tears) or oil. It’s symbolic.
WHAT DO CHRISTIANS DO WITH ASHES?
At an Ash Wednesday service, folks are invited to come forward to receive the ashes. The minister will make a small cross on your forehead by smudging the ashes. While the ashes remind us of our mortality and sin, the cross reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection (life after death) and forgiveness. It’s a powerful, non-verbal way that we can experience God’s forgiveness and renewal as we return to Jesus.