Trying to Understand Ash Wednesday.

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

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You’re gonna have to excuse my ignorance here, but I just don’t know anything about Ash Wednesday.  Whenever I have seen folks with the ashen crosses smeared on their heads, I just thought they had some dirt up there and needed to clean it off.  I’m telling you, I really had no idea what was going on!  I’ve been a Baptist for about twenty years and have always thought that the holiday had something to do with Catholics and that cultic looking ash cross.  Well, I was right…but not about the cultic part.  Recently, I’ve grown to respect some of the aspects of higher liturgy and have made friends in other traditions who faithfully engage in this kind of worship.

Today, I’ve probably done more reading than I ever have on Lent, Fat Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday.  I figure that I’ve got the Fat Tuesday part down (for some reason, I think I always have), but Wednesday is a challenge for me.  These are the things I’ve learned about it so far:

  1. Ash Wednesday begins the Church calendar season of Lent.  A time of humility and personal reflection.  Easter comes about 40 to 50 days later.
  2. Ash Wednesday is not a required holiday for Christians, but a time when many of them prepare themselves for Easter.
  3. Many churches have services on Ash Wednesday when the ashen cross is distributed to the congregation, leader to congregant.
  4. When the cross is applied, the leader (pastor/priest) states something regarding repentance (“Turn away from sin and embrace the Gospel”) or mortality (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return”).
  5. Traditionally, people give something up from Ash Wednesday until Easter.  It is an act of humility helping the person remember to pray and meditate on his own mortality. Whatever money you would spend on the thing you “give up” for this time, you save until Easter to give to the poor (Charity).

Of course, there’s more to it than that, but I’m just dipping my proverbial toe into the topic this year to test the waters.  Now that I’m looking into what it means, I’m intrigued and attracted.  I know that many see it the way that I used to, a macabre and depressing practice unnecessary for Christians who have victory in Christ.  I don’t think like that anymore.  I believe that one of the greatest ways to appreciate the goodness and greatness of God is to remember how bad and frail we can be.  This is the time of year we can reflect on our inadequacies when we compare ourselves to Christ’s goodness.  And while we deprive ourselves of the one thing we’ve chosen to give up for a season (chocolate?  TV?), it can make us long for Easter when we take it back up again.  Easter is the day when we celebrate the goodness of God and the culmination of his redemption for us.

Here are some links that have helped me think about Ash Wednesday.  Hope they help.

“Giving Up Self-Discipline for Lent” by Mark Galli at Christianity Today

“Ash Wednesday: What Is Ash Wednesday? How Do We Observe It? Why Should We?” by Mark D. Roberts at Patheos.

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Categories: Christian Calendar | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Trying to Understand Ash Wednesday.

  1. Melissa A

    Jason we have been reading about lent this year and focusing on preparing our hearts for Easter. It seems to come and go so fast on one single Sunday. I don’t see it as a depressing practice but as added strength to our walk with Christ and a perfect time to focus more on our spiritual needs and less on our physical needs. I enjoy reading your posts.

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