Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent in Christian churches. That sentence alone invites a number of questions.
What is Ash Wednesday? It is a day that marks the beginning of the Lenten season by reminding followers of Jesus that "we are dust and to dust we shall return." (Genesis 3:19) Sounds morbid, but really it's not. We connect with our truest nature - made of the stuff of all creation, and only with God's help can we be animated by spirit. On our own, we are no where near as significant as we think we are. And yet, in the potter's hands, and with his Spirit within us, we are remarkable. As Pastor Mike reminided us at our Ash Wednesday service, we are chosen by God! (bonus side note: the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are supposed to be made from the previous year's Palm Sunday palms!)
What is the season of Lent? It's a 40 day journey that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter where we walk with Jesus as he journeys to the cross. 40 is a number used repeatedly in the Bible to signify a time of transformation, often by developing a deeper reliance on God. That's why some people give up things that are important to them: candy, soda, coffee, social media; anything they might view as a crutch or as something that keeps them from a strong relationship with God. Lent is a season, as Pastor Mike reminded us, to remember that we are cherished, changed, and carried by God. (bonus side note: if you count the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter you will discover it's more than 40. How come? Shh...don't tell anybody, but in the early years of the faith, Sundays were considered little Easters each week, so they don't count! I'm not saying you get 7 or so cheat days during Lent, but...)
You say Christian churches do this, but I've never heard of it before. What's up with that? Depending on where you worship, your church may not have journeyed through Lent as a community. There could be good intentions behind this. Sometimes, we let ritual get in the way of genuine faith. So some churches may feel like this is just another thing to "do", and they want to be focused on who they are supposed to "be." That's just fine. Don't let ritual or tradition get in the way of your faith. At the same time, there is a reason these rituals have been in place for centuries. Millions of Christians have found this season valuable for shedding the desires of the flesh to discover a deeper desire to be with Jesus. So if you've never done it before, give it a shot. You're not to late to start. Remember, there are a few cheat days built in so you can still get to 40 ;)
You've convinced me this is going to be awesome. How do I start?
Consider setting aside something for 40 days that seems to consume alot of your time, energy, or thought. Probably not your job or taking care of your kids. But even starting with something small. Give up one of the TV shows you watch and replace that time with scripture reading and prayer. Give up video games for 40 days. Go on a walk and connect with nature and God. Give up going out to eat and give the money you would have spent to the church or charity.
If possible, embark on this journey with a partner or group. Encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and pray for one another. Share with each other what you're filling your "God time" with.
If you slip up and have that cup of coffee, take that bite of chocolate, or whatever, that's okay. The disciples slipped up a number of times as they journeyed with Jesus and he still welcomed them back. Just stick with the path knowing that you are chosen, cherished, changing, and carried by the God of grace.
Need resources for devotions? https://www.faithward.org/daily-lent-devotions-based-on-the-psalms/
Need creative Lent ideas? https://www.faithward.org/lent-resources/2022-lent-calendar-with-daily-discipleship-practices/
Grace and peace.