Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church and the church I attend now most certainly isn’t liturgical but there is something about the traditions of Christianity that appeals to me. The Church calendar is a way of keeping before us the story of Jesus, the story of the Church throughout the ages and the need for repentance and sorrow as well as for joy and celebration. I don’t always observe Lent but this year I would like to.
I like Wikipedia’s explanation of the day because it doesn’t assume the reader knows anything about it and it includes a variety of perspectives and ways of observing the day. In Bible times, fasting, sackcloth and ashes were an integral part of grieving (Wikipedia references Job 42:3-6, Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Matthew 11:21, and Hebrews 9:13), so it’s no surprise that early Christian leaders chose ashes as a way to symbolise our grief and sorrow at the ways we have turned from God.
In some traditions, palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned to provide the needed ashes which are then mixed with oil or water. The priest, pastor or designated layperson applies it to the foreheads of those willing in the shape of a cross as an outward expression of inner sorrow and repentance. The ashes are not washed off until after sunset.
Ash Wednesday is about repentance and though, admittedly, repentance should not be confined to one day a year, it is good to have this reminder of our need to repent. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but in the busyness of our lives, it is easy to forget just how short of God’s glory we fall. It is useful to have a day to sit and take inventory of our lives—in both thoughts and deeds.
God, I want to live a life of repentance, a life of continually turning to you. It seems I perpetually turn away from you, God, and I don’t like it. Thank you for a day specifically set aside to ponder these turnings and to once again affirm that I choose to turn to you.