Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent

Lenten Season, 2018: Week 1 Begins with Ash Wednesday

New Beginnings: See? I Am Doing a New Thing!—God

When I was seven years old, my 10-year old friend, Diane, invited me to join The Salvation Army Brownie pack to which she belonged. As a result, I also began to attend The Salvation Army Outpost Sunday School with her. On the way home from Brownies one evening, Diane told me that we had to stop at her church to ‘get her ashes’. I wasn’t old enough to understand why the priest put ashes in the shape of a tiny cross on Diane’s forehead. However, when we arrived back at my home, my mom opened the door, spotted the ‘dirt’ on Diane’s forehead, wet her thumb with her saliva, and quickly ‘erased’ the dirty spot before Diane could even react. When she did, she exclaimed in dismay, “Mrs. Hogan! My ashes!” That’s when it clicked for my (Prostentant) mom, who apologized to Diane and her family. Thankfully, our families were good friends, and continued to be so. 

Many Christians have had an awareness of Ash Wednesday and Lent, but not necessarily the meaningfulness of these observances. Conversely, ever since Mel Gibson produced the film, “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004, a new interest emerged surrounding the significance of including the Lenten season as part of one’s spiritual development. 
So what is the meaning of Ash Wednesday and why is it important to Lent—the time of preparing our hearts and minds before Easter Sunday?

Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent
The date of Ash Wednesday changes each year, because it is based on the timing of Easter. Ash Wednesday, observed on February 14th this year, signifies the first day of the Lenten Season in the Christian Church calendar. When we consider this holy season of reflection and meditation leading up to celebrating Easter, it’s very appropriate that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s day are celebrated together, because both are observances and expressions of love.

How do Christians Observe Ash Wednesday?
Many denominations, including the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, observe Ash Wednesday with special services. Participants in these services receive a blessing from the minister or priest as they use ashes to form the sign of the cross (to represent death and repentance) on the foreheads of those. Many worshippers leave the mark on their foreheads to signify that they are carrying the sign of the cross into the world. The source of the ashes that are used come from palm crosses that were blessed the preceding year. 

What is Lent?
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and it lasts for a period of the 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter. Christians who observe Lent use it as a time for prayer and repentance. The focus of Lent is to remember Jesus' 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert before His ultimate sacrifice of being crucified on the cross.

Because Lent is associated with Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness, fasting is also associated with Lent. For example, some Christians fast for the entire period of Lent, while others only do so on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday). Also, there are many non-going church people who choose to abstain from something for Lent, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or favourite foods. Still others commit to doing something to help others on each of the days of Lent—giving up some of their time (e.g., visiting shut-ins, allowing someone to go ahead of you in a line at the grocery store, or helping someone with yard work).

Thus, as we consider the theme of, New Beginnings: See? I Am Doing a New Thing!—God”, we will be doing so via elements such as ‘Reflection’, ‘Rest’, ‘Realisation’ , ‘Refreshing’, ‘Renewal’, ‘Resurrection’, and ‘Rebirth’.

Suggested Readings for Week 1 of Lent—to begin Reflecting upon our spiritual walk:

Wed. Ps. 51: 10-17
Thurs. Ps. 139: 23-24
Fri. 1 Cor. 13
Sat. Ps. 46: 1-11
Sun. 1 John 1: 5-10 
Mon. Ps. 132: 1-5
Tues. Luke 14: 25-34

Blessings & Peace

Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk 

Former Salvation Army Officer/pastor

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