Ash Wednesday and Lent
Lent is the season in the church year that occurs just before Easter. The observance of Lent goes back to the early days of the Church. It was originally a time of preparation for those who desired to be baptized during the Easter Celebration called the Easter Vigil.
Since baptism is the sacrament that Jesus associated with forgiveness and new life in Christ, it was commonly practiced at Easter when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection holds for us the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift on everlasting life to all who believe. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, the proclamation of the Good News has always been a call “to repent and be baptized.” So the early church set aside a time for new believers in Jesus to prepare for their baptism with a time of self-examination, repentance, and prayer. This season was then extended to include the whole church as an opportunity for all to renew their faith in Christ as well.
Lent is a 40 day time set aside for repentance, fasting, and spiritual renewal. The 40 days also commemorates the 40 day period of fasting of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Judean wilderness following His baptism. During that time the Gospels tell us that he faced strong temptation from the Devil. This time of fasting was a time of preparation for Jesus. After He victoriously withstood those temptations, the Gospels tell that He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit, and His public ministry began. So during the season of Lent we have the opportunity to exercise the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, self-examination and repentance as a way to draw near to the Lord. This does not mean that this is the only time when attention should be given to these disciplines, but having a regular time each year when we focus on this aspect of our faith helps us to not neglect them during the rest of the year. The purpose for Lent then is to help usher in a time of spiritual growth and renewal which is the fruit that comes from drawing near to God. During Lent we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, and we believe that His victory over sin and death when He rose from the grave empowers our spiritual life. Lent is a time to reconnect our lives to His resurrection power.
So why does Lent begin on Ash Wednesday?
This is because Sundays are not included among the fast days so they are not counted in the forty days. If you count back forty days from Easter but omit the Sundays you find that the first day of Lent is always a Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 6. It is called Ash Wednesday because we use ashes in liturgy that day. During the worship service we mark our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross. Ashes have typically been used as sign of repentance. The ashes also reminds us of our mortality. The words spoken during the imposition of the ashes are “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words echo the Word of God to Adam and Eve after the fall. It reminds us that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Therefore we should live our lives today and every day in light of eternity. We mark our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross to remember our Baptism after which we are also marked with the sign of the cross. Marking the forehead with the sign of the cross reminds us that we belong to Him. This centers the focus our Lenten journey on the Lord Himself, who has marked us as His own. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy reminds us that if we bring the ashes of our life to the Lord, in faith, that He will bring us to new life.
Trinity Anglican Church will have Ash Wednesday Services on Wednesday, March 6 at noon and 7pm. All are welcome to join us. We are located at 8486 Bowden St. in historic Douglasville.