You may know someone this last week who began observing Lent, the 40 day period preceding Easter. It’s a time when Christians prepare for the coming of Holy Week and Easter through prayer, fasting, alms-giving and self-denial. Some call it the “Spring Training” of Christianity!
In fact, this past week started the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is marked by the placing of ashes on the forehead (often in the sign of the cross) by the priest or minister. The ashes come from the burnt palm branches used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
Ash Wednesday, among other things, is to draw the believer’s attention to their own mortality. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. It’s a way to mark one’s identification with the cross of Christ and to consecrate one’s self for the self-denial that Lent involves.
In many ways, Lent is the Easter complement to Christmas’ Advent. I find myself wanting to observe Lent. You might think that’s an odd desire, but I want to identify as much as I can with the Story that brings final and lasting definition to my existence. Lent is one of the ways I can mark the days of my life with devotion to the One who gave his life for me.
I am a pastor in a tradition that prides itself in few ornate traditions. In many ways, the stripped down service, with no memorized prayers or set liturgy would be a mark of pride when contrasted with with other traditions and their bedazzled way of relating to God.
Sometimes, I feel like maybe I’m missing something of value that I might have gained with an observance like Lent. I want to follow Jesus to the cross, to the hilt. Maybe starting with some ashes is just the way to do it.