Ash Wednesday seems like such a strange day in the Church for modern people. Why do we rub ashes on our foreheads? Where do these ashes come from? Why do we give something up for Lent? Is this holiday ever mentioned in the Bible? These are all valid questions that we ask every year as we approach the start of the season of Lent.
Ash Wednesday was never a holiday mentioned in the Bible, yet I believe it is an incredibly significant part of our faith journey throughout the year. We read in the gospel accounts that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting before beginning his ministry. Our 40-day journey through Lent becomes a remembrance of the preparation that Jesus went through as we prepare our own hearts and souls for Easter. Sundays don’t count as part of those 40 days because Sundays are considered mini Easters, and therefore should be celebrated as feast days, rather than fast days.
Throughout the bible we see examples of people rubbing ashes on themselves as a sign of grieving and repentance. When we come at Ash Wednesday and mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads with ashes, it becomes a symbol to us and a witness to everyone around us of our own grief for our sins and our commitment to turn away from sin and turn towards God. Traditionally in the Church, the ashes used come from burning the palm branches of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. It brings everything full circle for us during the course of a year.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday many Christians choose to give something up, or fast, during the season of Lent. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism and he was a big proponent of fasting because he believed that fasting helps us become more obedient to God. He would ask the question, “How often do we go a day without eating, and how often do we go a day without praying?”. His point was that if we can become more obedient to God than we are to our stomachs, then our faith will be enriched. The same is true for our obedience to anything else in our lives as well.
I hope you’ll come and join us at one of our St. Luke’s campuses this coming Wednesday night at 6:30 for an Ash Wednesday service. It’s a great way to start the season of Lent and begin that journey of preparation for the glorious news that comes on Easter!