I suppose many people – especially non-Catholics – have conflicting concepts about what Ash Wednesday is or why we – especially Protestants such as me – would celebrate it. I have done my share of struggling with it in the past too. It is not the most welcoming of holy days. Let’s smear some ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality and our sinful natures. Uh… how about we don’t.
I do not need to be reminded that I am a sinner – that we are all sinners. And as I get older I certainly do not need to be reminded that I am going to eventually die.
Or do I?
The tradition of Ash Wednesday is derived from the biblical practice of using dust and ashes to symbolically express remorse for sins and as an outward sign of repentance. (See Job 42:3-6, or Daniel 9:3). Plus we get the added bonus of being reminded of our impending death, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19).
For many years I only thought of Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to that most holy of holy days on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday. This is the time that we are traditionally asked to give something up – to fast from something specific as an act of penance. Often times in today’s society people try to give up something that they perceive as a vice; like coffee, chocolate, fried foods, or red meat because they see it as a way to eliminate a barrier between themselves and God.
Personally I find it more edifying to take something on rather than give something up. In the last few years during Lent I have attempted to take on more study, prayer, acts of kindness, etc. And this year is no exception. This year I plan to participate in our Conference’s Lenten devotional series every morning, as well as read more scripture especially at night. I am also going to try to pray more and blog at least weekly about my Lenten journey or something else of a spiritual nature. And finally my wife and I plan on taking care of our temples during this time by walking for more exercise at least three days a week. Sounds simple enough, right?
Actually – as I read through this list I am thinking, “I should be doing these things all of the time – not just during Lent”. And I guess personally I hope that forty days is enough to make some of these things more of a habit.
So as we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday to kick off this season of repentance and self-denial in preparation for Holy Week, my prayer is that through it all we all learn to walk closer with God, to remove the things that stand in between Him and us, and to experience His amazing grace.
Like the words of the praise chorus, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary – Pure and Holy – Tried and True…“