What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash-WednesdayToday is Ash Wednesday.  But what is Ash Wednesday all about?  Why do we do it?  Why is this something that we should focus on?  What is the point?

Ash Wednesday is the first day in the Forty Day season known as Lent.  These forty days (excluding Sunday – I’ll explain why in a bit) are a time for us to remember all that Jesus did for us.  It’s a time for us to remember the depth of all that Jesus went through for us.  His passion.  His suffering.  His death and upon the cross.

And to prepare ourselves for what is to come on Easter.

In the life of the early church, Lent was a season of preparation for those that would be joining the church on Easter.  It was a time of fasting and prayer as these new converts to the faith were making sure that they were truly ready to make their vows to publically become a Christian.  They were preparing to enter a world where being a Christian was something that could cost you your life.  The church wanted to make sure that these new believers knew just what that meant.

So they fasted and prayed for forty days, to prepare.  To make sure. To be ready.  Many churches (our’s at St. Matthew’s is one of them) continues that tradition of individuals joining after Easter, many of those within our Confirmation Class will join our church on the Sunday after Easter.

But why ashes?  Why Ash Wednesday?  Throughout the Bible, ashes are seen as a sign of repentance.  Individuals would put on “sackcloth and ashes” to show public signs of repentance.  You may remember Job sitting in the ashes, after all that happened to him.  To mark yourself in some way with ashes to remember the truth of our lives, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Ashes remind us our humanity and our frailty.

So as we start Lent, we begin with ashes.

I said earlier that Sundays are not included within Lent.  Why is that?  Every Sunday is a “little Easter.” Every Sunday we gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  So, how can we fast while we celebrate?  Sundays as always splashes of grace within our lives.

During Lent, as a sign of repentance, many of us will give up or fast from something.  It may be a meal, a type of food, an activity.  Something.  What I tell my children is just to make sure that it’s something you like, so you’ll miss it.  And when you miss it, you turn to pray.

That’s the point of fasting, in all of its forms, to drive us to pray and to help us better hear and understand God’s voice.  Fasting helps us listen better, it clears away the clutter. For me, it always helps me pray.

Some, instead of giving up something, will “pick up” something.  Just as Simon of Cyrene picked up the cross to help Jesus, they will pick up, or start something that will help them grow closer to Jesus.  Maybe it’s a spiritual discipline.  Maybe it’s an act of kindness.  It could be any thing that draws us closer to Jesus.

And that’s really the point of Ash Wednesday and of Lent.  It reminds us of our brokenness it reminds us of our frailty and reminds of our need for Jesus.  Luke 14: 9-14 explains this heart quite well:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

When we humble ourselves, when we repent, when we realize our great need for Jesus, you know what?  We find life.

Today on Ash Wednesday and in this season of Lent, may we find life.  May we find His grace.

If you are in the Madison County area, we’d love to have you join us tonight at St. Matthew’s for our Ash Wednesday service tonight.  We’ll have a meal at 5 p.m. and service at 6 p.m.  If you are unable to make our service and would like to receive ashes, come by the church anytime today and they will be available.

If you’d like to receive these thoughts by email, be sure to click here and join my email devotional group!

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