Today is Ash Wednesday. For those who may not know, this is the first day in the season of Lent in the Christian calendar. That’s right, the Christian church has a calendar. I was introduced to this time of the year when I began working at a United Methodist Church as a youth pastor several years ago. The first time I attended the Ash Wednesday service I was surprised that people would go to a service and have ashes put on their foreheads. I have since learned to appreciate these opportunities to reflect on what God is teaching us.
Lent is an interesting time for a couple of reasons. First, there is a special service that marks the forty days before Easter Sunday. In this service we learn what is truly wrong with us. Our sin needs to be forgiven and our relationship with God has to be restored. One of the more powerful moments during this service is when we are forced to confront our own mortality. We will not live forever. As a matter of fact there are no guarantees that we will live past this moment. We assume that we will, but there is no way we can be sure.
Facing our limited time on this earth can be unsettling, but we must never forget that our lives here on this earth are not supposed to last forever. We are sojourners and travelers in this world. This world is not our true home! This is most evident when the pastor imposes the ashes on your forehead and says these words, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,” followed by, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” These are quotes from Genesis 3:19 and Mark 1:15 respectively.
“Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
Second, Lent is a time of preparation and renunciation. We are preparing to commemorate and celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. We are preparing ourselves, by committing to spend intentional and focused attention on the things of God. We are making a choice to do without something. I remember one year I gave up drinking soft drinks. I thought I would never make it. What I realized during that time is how I do not like denying myself anything. This is a dangerous place to be spiritually.
The choice to fast from something is a helpful reminder of our need to depend on God. God alone is able to sustain us. By renouncing some of the fringe benefits that our culture affords us can be a helpful reminder of how little we truly need these things.
During this season of Lent I will hope to create a pattern of being more diligent to do what God is asking of me to do. How about you?