Today is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of this year’s Lenten season, the 47 days (yes, I am including Sundays) between what is commonly called Shrove Tuesday, “Fat Tuesday”, and/or Mardi Gras and Easter Sunday.
I am a Christian and yet I have never really celebrated Ash Wednesday or Lent for that matter, not since I left Cayman and the required chapel Wednesday services behind with grade school. Honestly, Ash Wednesday and Lent were never really explained to me, not in a way that I recall or, if they were, remember understanding. This year, however, I have felt a heart leading to concentrate on the Lenten season and, more so, to participate in it. I am giving something up for Lent this year but I am keeping it to myself for the most part. The only person who knows is my husband and I am at peace with keeping it that way.
I am also following along and reading through She Reads Truth’s Lent study through their website, starting, naturally, with Day 1: Ash Wednesday.
Several points jumped out at me as I read through today’s lesson:
- Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance.
- The ashen cross on the forehead is an outward sign of both repentance and hope.
- On Ash Wednesday, we admit our limits and acknowledge the brevity of this life.
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. It is a day when our mortality is to be foremost in our minds. That is a hard thing to consider: mortality. The fact that, some day, our lives will be over and the world will spin without us. “Remember, mortal, one day you will die.” Those would be hard words to hear, even whispered from a soul I love, respect, and trust. As a Christian, they are a reminder to me that, even though my bones will be dust someday, I have hope in a life beyond death. “Still, even for those in Christ, these words are a sober reminder that only Jesus’ death and resurrection could pay the wage of our sin and reconcile us to our Maker (She Reads Truth).” To remember ourselves as mortal is not an easy thing but it remembering that we are only on this earth for a short time makes what we do with that time all the more important.
The ashen cross on the forehead is an outward sign of both repentance and hope. I have never had the ashen cross drawn on my forehead, and I definitely didn’t know that, traditionally, the ashes are made from burning the palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday. I vividly remember Palm Sunday as a child. I remember walking into church with my friends, waving the palm fronds and leaves as we marked the celebration of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem just before Passover and His trial and crucifixion. To see the ashen cross on the forehead as a sign of both repentance, a desire to draw closer to God, and hope, the hope we have in the love and sacrifice Jesus made for us, is remarkably poignant and heart-striking to me. It’s like candlelight in a dark room, enough light to see to take the next step. And then the next after that.
On Ash Wednesday, we admit our limits and acknowledge the brevity of this life. Acknowledging my limitations can be very hard for me. Admitting that there are things that I cannot do, outcomes I cannot affect can often leave me feeling helpless and useless. But that is not the truth. The truth is that I need to lean on and let God be God in those moments and situations. My job is simply to obey and do all that I am called or led to do; God handles the rest, that is His job. Human life may be brief but I have seen God bring about amazing things through people who dare to admit their limits, give their work and what they have into His hands, and see what wonders He will work with it.
So, as I go through this Lenten season, my goal is to strengthen my connection with God. To be more intentional about spending time in the quiet, listening to and for Him. To see what I am giving up as a step to a better path, to look for grace in the situations that arise (the giving and receiving of it). To acknowledge my limits, give the Lord what I have, and get out of the way.