Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. But Ash Wednesday isn’t its proper name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. We call it Ash Wednesday simply because forty days before Good Friday always falls on a Wednesday.
The word Lent in Latin means ‘spring’ – the season of new life and of growth out of the darkness and dormancy of winter. Lent provides a focus to practice some form of abstinence or to commit themselves to a less indulgent lifestyle – especially after the excesses of the Christmas season.
Lent, for most of us, involves taking a break from such things as: Chocolate; Alcohol; TV. For others, Lent is a time for ‘navel gazing’ and truthful honesty about the state of their lives. For others, Lent is a time for nurturing the spiritual side of their lives. You might be interested in reading Lent: Self Examination and Confession
Part of the Liturgy we use on Ash Wednesday includes these words:
For these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your people once again. Through fasting, prayer and acts of service, you bring us back to your generous heart. Through study of your holy word you open our eyes to your presence in the world and free our hands to welcome others into the radiant splendour of your love.
On Ash Wednesday many Christians receive the mark of the cross made with ash (usually the ashes from the burning of Palm Crosses leftover from the previous year). And, whilst they may be just a few ashes, they mean a lot more. Ashes, in the Bible. were often a sign of mourning and grief, but they are also a sign of repentance and penitence and when people are seeking God’s forgiveness. They are a symbol of our need for God. They are a way of showing on the outside what is happening on the inside.
When the sign of the cross is made these words are said; ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. This is based on God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham’s confession in Genesis 18:27: I am nothing but dust and ashes. This reminds us that, without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are like ashes.
Mothering Sunday marks a break from the Lenten fast. Mothering Sunday always falls on the 4th Sunday of Lent and it was introduced so that Christians could share a celebration meal at home – as well as returning to their mother church for the occasion – before continuing their Lenten fast leading up to Holy Week.
Jesus’ Lenten focus was the renewal of peoples lives and to align them with the values of the Kingdom of God and, given the constant stream of depressing stories of political unrest, violence and sectarianism, storms Caira and Dennis, even the Coronavirus, on our news programmes and in our newspapers, I’m sure you’d agree that the world is in need of renewal.
The prophet Joel encouraged God’s people to recall their true vocation. A vocation to reveal the compassionate, justice seeking God to the world around. The failure of the people of Judah and Jerusalem to actively seek the renewal of the world had caused other nations to ask: ‘Where is their God?’
I simply cannot understand how somebody can be a spiritual being and not be actively involved in the transformation of the world.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
What a challenge to us.
Have you ever considered that Lent is a time of transformation rather than abstinence? And, whilst not one of us would ever lay claim to be able to change the world, each of us can change the world in which we live by doing something a little different this Lent by Fasting AND Feasting. For example:
And so, I could go on … why not add to these or make up your own list?
May God’s richest blessing be upon you and your family as you FAST and FEAST this Lenten season.