Forty-six days before Easter, the Christian church comes together to begin the season of Lent, which is marked by Ash Wednesday. For forty days (Sundays don’t count) the church will observe a season of penitence, sacrifice, and redemption. These are the markers of this season not because Christians like self-deprecation, but because it is good for us to remember that we are sinners and even more so to remember the God who saves us. This remembering helps to keep us grounded. It ties us to other Christians across time and place, connecting us to the historical church and to the millions of others who span age, country and denomination.
The season of Lent, and specifically the observance of Ash Wednesday have always been a bit of a fascination for me. In a culture that goes to extreme lengths to practice pain-avoidance and image-maintenance, taking 40 days, or even just one day and acknowledging that my sins are real defies everything that society elevates.
In the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew records how Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days. Some people misread this passage of scripture to say that Jesus was tempted for 40 days. The Bible says that he prepared for the temptation for 40 days (see Matthew 4:1-11). During the season of Lent, we take 40 days to prepare ourselves; to remove ourselves, or a piece of ourselves from the world and re-focus, prepare. We take honest stock of who we have become over the last year and of who God is calling us to be in the coming year. On Ash Wednesday, the ashes come from burned palm branches, traditionally those that were used on Palm Sunday to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. The ashes on our forehead remind us that the same material that a year ago had been used to praise and worship has been turned to ashes; even our best efforts are dust.
Take this day, Ash Wednesday, and allow yourself to remember your brokenness. To remember the rebellion in our hearts against the one who created us, and to repent; to turn and acknowledge that it took the very incarnation of God most high to bring us back to him. And be glad.