Last night, the anchor on our local news said that many Christians around the world were celebrating Ash Wednesday. It struck me as an odd choice of words. Do we really “celebrate” Ash Wednesday? It’s a day of repentance – a day to remember that we were created from dust and to dust we will return – a day to be humble. Ash Wednesday kicks off the liturgical season of Lent, which is 40 days (plus Sundays) that Christians observe to prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.
Sounds like a party to me!
“Don’t need nothin’ – but Contrition”
(sung to the tune of the Poison song, Nothin’ but a Good Time.)
Many Christians traditionally give something up for Lent; like carbonated beverages, chocolate, or desserts. Others add something to their routine; like an additional bible study, devotional, or prayer. Some attend special Ash Wednesday services where they may participate in a ritual of receiving the mark of ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance and mourning. All of this is an effort to get their hearts and minds focused on the upcoming Holy Day of Easter, or the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. (THAT I can understand referring to as a celebration!)
Here’s the thing though: All of this is great, as long as you remember that it’s a human device – a ritual designed and perpetuated by imperfect people. In the end, God isn’t going to ask if you observed Lent properly, or call you out on eating a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup after giving up chocolate for 40 days. That isn’t what’s important to Him.
What He ultimately wants from us is exactly what He has always wanted: for us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, and souls – and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And if observing Lent or Ash Wednesday in whatever way we think is necessary helps us to do that – then that’s exactly what we should do.
I went to Ash Wednesday service last night, received the mark of ashes, and prayed a little extra. I am doing a couple of extra devotionals for the time being. I will be reading and writing more intentionally for spiritual reasons. I might even deny myself something that I really like. And I encourage you to do those kinds of things too. But I mostly encourage you to (as they say around Christmas) remember the reason for the season.
Prayer for the beginning of Lent:
Lord, help us to use whatever rituals and devices that we choose to do nothing more than strengthen our commitment to you, our families, our churches, our communities, and our world. Help us to love you more, and to learn how to love your people.