Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

As a child I will never forget getting the opportunity to participate in the worship service on Palm Sunday. For most congregations it is customary to have the children of the church come into the sanctuary waving palm branches at some point during the service to help give everyone a visual of the great celebration that Jesus experienced as he made His entry into Jerusalem the week of his crucifixion.

As much as I love the celebration that surrounds Palm Sunday and Easter, we as believers do ourselves a disservice if we don’t also understand just what it is we are celebrating on Palm Sunday and Easter. We can’t celebrate the new life and resurrection if we do not first make ourselves available to death.

The Season of Lent is a way that the church, for centuries, reminds itself each year of the death and suffering of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Lent begins with a solemn observance called “Ash Wednesday.”

For those who worship in an Protestant-Evangelical tradition, recognizing the Lenten season may be new. Our Catholic and Mainline Protestant brothers and sisters have been celebrating this season for centuries. Honestly, it was a season that I did not recognized until I began to attend college.

However, since the church calendar has become a part of my journey I can honestly say that there is a discipline that is present in my journey that wasn’t there before. The Christian calendar is a great way to teach the younger generation the Faith and it enables us to have vivid reminders about the life of Christ and the importance of the church in our lives.

Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter. It is during this time that the church has always set aside time to focus in on the journey and sacrifice that Jesus made on His was to the cross. Because Sundays are always a day to celebrate the resurrected Lord, the 6 Sundays in Lent are not included in the 40 days. The number 40 is very significant in the biblical story; Noah spent 40 days and 40 nights on the ark, the Israelites spent 40 years in the dessert on their way to the Promised Land, and Jesus spend 40 days in the desert fasting and this was also the time where he was tempted by Satan.

Lent asks us to put ourselves into the story of Jesus, to walk with Him has he journeys to the cross. Lent has traditionally been a time of fasting. This time of fasting allows us to refocus ourselves on Jesus and the cross as sometimes there can be a tendency to allow our focus to be distracted from Jesus and onto the various distractions of this world. Perhaps you have heard of people giving up chocolate, alcohol, foods, television, and other types of “things” in their life for Lent. While this is good, we must recognize that Lent is not just another excuse to go on a diet or change a habit.

The type of fasting that we are called upon in Lent is a fast from that which may be keeping you from loving God with all your heart, soul and mind, and also your neighbor. It is a call to allow the Holy Spirit to examine you and reveal to you that which may be out of line with the character of a Holy and loving God. Furthermore, fasting is not just going without, but it is about replacing as well. It is about replacing that which you have given up with the deep desire and longing for Jesus Christ.

Sunday’s during Lent continue to be a time set aside to celebrate the resurrected Christ. During the 6 Sunday’s in Lent we still celebrate that Christ has defeated death, hell and the grave and that we are a new creation in him. However, in recognizing that we are a new creation we understand that we are only a new creation because we have died. We have died to sin – we have died to self and have been made alive in Christ. Lent helps us recognize what it means to be crucified with Christ and to live in Him.

Would you join us this Lenten season? Join us on this journey that begins with Ash Wednesday where we recognize that physical death is enviable for all of us, and it is only through the grace and mercy of our Lord that we can have life. Join us on this Lenten journey as we walk with Jesus to the cross and we refocus ourselves on His sacrifice so that we can be a new creation.

This Lenten season we will remind ourselves how to pray; how to pray for the Lord’s way, how to pray for a nation, how to pray for healing, how to pray with power, and how to pray with humility. Most of all we will be praying for ourselves, that we will turn from anything that has kept us from God. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

May we turn from ourselves and turn towards the cross…Hear our prayer, O Lord.

Ash Wednesday

On this Ash Wednesday we are reminded of just how great this gift we have been given is. This wonderful gift of grace is available to us because of the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Humanity was formed from the dust of the earth and at some point all of us will return to the dust of the earth. Thankfully, it is this grace that has been bestowed upon us which gives us the glorious freedom over sin and the assurance of eternal life.

The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality and a reminder of who God is. The ashes are also an outward sign that we are all in need of God’s grace because of the sinful nature in which we are all born with.

Perhaps, the ashes can be a sign of another great act of God. In Ezekiel 9:4, God gives the instruction, “…Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and grown over all the abominations that are committed in it.” (Ezekiel 9:4, NRSV)

In Chapter 8 of Ezekiel we see God has given the prophet Ezekiel a “birds eye” of the nation of Israel and it is in the vision that Ezekiel receives the instruction of what God will do to the inhabitants of Israel because of their abominations against God.

Thankfully God in his mercy, realizes there are some who are groaning over the abominations that are taking place. When the slaughter of idolaters is unleashed, those who have been marked will be passed by. This mark was most likely the Hebrew letter “tau,” which would have resembled an “X.”

In Revelation 7, between the opening of the 6th and 7th seal, John receives the vision that before any creation is damaged the servants of God will receive a seal on their forehead signifying that they are servants of God. (Revelation 7:3-4, NRSV). Again we see where the people of God are set a part by a mark. Perhaps, we could call this a “mark of grace.”

This Ash Wednesday, it is my prayer that all will turn away from the idols of this world and proclaim to this world that we are children of God. Our identity rests, not in this world, but in the Son of God; Jesus Christ, our Lord. This season, identify yourself by the mark of grace, no only on your forehead, but on your heart through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Q: Where did the tradition of Ash Wednesday come from?
It was traditional in ancient times for people engaged in special times of fasting, prayer, repentance, or remorse by rubbing ashes on their forehead as an outward symbol of what they are experiencing internally. This custom entered Christianity through Judaism, and Christians today may place ashes on their foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent. Ideally, one should use ashes from the burning of palm fronds from the previous year’s Easter celebrations.

Q: Why do Christians have their foreheads marked with a cross? 
A: Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross. This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that was put on a Christian in baptism, being delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).

Q: Where do the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from? 
A: They are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday — ashes having been used in God’s rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17)

Join us Wednesday, February 22nd at 6:30pm for Ash Wednesday service.


You Are Loved By Your Pastor, 
David Snodgrass