Today is Ash Wednesday (2023) which is the first day of Lent. It is a day of prayer and fasting in many Christian denominations including “Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Oriental Orthodox, Persian, United Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions. Some Anabaptist, Baptist, Reformed (including certain Continental Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches), and nondenominational Christian churches also observe Lent, although many churches in these traditions do not.” (Quote source here.)
Lent is described in an article titled “What is Lent and why does it last 40 days?” produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. This article states:
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, meaning “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of spring. The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by new converts and then became a time of penance by all Christians. Today, Christians focus on relationship with God, growing as disciples and extending ourselves, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of ourselves for others.
Sundays in Lent are not counted in the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter.” This is why you will see the designation “Sunday in Lent” rather than “Sunday of Lent” in the naming of these Sundays. On each Lord’s Day in Lent, while Lenten fasts continue, the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. (Quote source here.)
A 2023 Guide for Christians celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent is available on Christianity.com at this link. Here is a timetable of key events during Lent from this guide (chart source here):
|Important Dates of Lent||Brief Overview of Significance||2023 Date|
|Ash Wednesday||The beginning of Lent, a day of reflection and repentance from sin||February 22, 2023|
|Palm Sunday||Celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem||April 2, 2023|
|Holy Week||The week leading up to Easter||April 2 – April 8, 2023|
|Maundy Thursday||Commemorates the foot washing and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles||April 6, 2023|
|Good Friday||Commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary||April 7, 2023|
|Easter Sunday||Celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and His victory over sin and death||April 9, 2023|
As to why ashes are placed on the forehead during Ash Wednesday services, Creighton University Online Ministries provides the answer in an article titled, “Why Do We Use Ashes on Ash Wednesday”:
Ashes are placed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, in one of the most counter-cultural acts of our faith. It is done for two reasons: a personal act of remembrance and as a sign or a witness for others.
The ashes come from the burnt Palms from last year’s Passion Sunday celebration, which begins Holy Week. So, these ashes bring us back to our last celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus for us. On this first day of Lent, we begin a journey of renewal – from death to life. This is a joyful season. We will make sacrifices, in order to try to let God reform our desiring, but this is a time for God to be generous to us.
When the ashes are placed on our foreheads, the minister says one of two formulas to help us remember who we are and the mission to which we are sent:
“Remember, man/woman, you are dust and to dust you will return.”
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
We are reminded that we are creatures and that our lives were given to us. But, we are also reminded that our lasting home is in eternity, with God. This is not our lasting home.
We are reminded that our call is to turn away from sin and to believe the Good News of our salvation in Jesus. This is a joyful reminder. It challenges us, for sure, but reminds us of why we want to turn from sin.
Finally, we wear our ashes as a sign. It is not a boastful sign through which I say, “Look at me and see how holy I am.” No, it is much more like, “I’m willing to wear this sign in the world and say that I’ve been reminded of where I come from and where I am going. And, I’ve heard the call to turn away from a life of sin and to give my life to living the Gospel of Jesus.” And, occasionally, in this world which is too often caught up in the denial of death, I might be required to answer the question, “What’s with the smudge on your forehead?”
“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” – Joel 2:12-13 (Quote source here.)
There are three main areas of focus during Lent, and they are prayer, fasting and giving/charity. In an article titled “What is Lent about and why is it important?” published on Cru.org, the article provides the following information on these three areas of focus:
The three main things people focus on during Lent are prayer, fasting (abstaining from something to reduce distractions and focus more on God) and giving, or charity.
Prayer during Lent focuses on our need for God’s forgiveness. It’s also about repenting (turning away from our sins) and receiving God’s mercy and love.
Fasting, or giving something up, is a very common practice during Lent. The idea is that giving up something that’s a regular part of life, like eating dessert or scrolling through Facebook, can be a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. That time can also be replaced with more time connecting with God.
Giving money or doing something good for others is a way to respond to God’s grace, generosity and love. For example, some people spend time volunteering or donate money they would normally use to buy something, like their morning coffee.
It’s important to note that doing these things can never make us earn or deserve Jesus’ sacrifice or a relationship with God. People are flawed and will never be good enough for a perfect God. Only Jesus has the power to rescue us from ourselves.
Jesus sacrificed Himself on Good Friday to bear the punishment for all our wrongdoings and offer us forgiveness. He was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday to give us an opportunity to have a relationship with God for eternity.
Spending time during Lent praying, fasting and giving can make Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter even more meaningful. (Quote source here.)
In an article published on March 22, 2017, titled, “Why is Lent so Important to Christians,” by Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, and columnist at the Suffolk News Herald, he shares his thoughts on the importance of Lent:
As an important religious observance in the Christian world, Lent is the season to observe and commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.
It is an opportune time to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Christ. Likewise, it’s an opportunity to repent for our misdeeds and misgivings and to increase the intensity of our prayer, fasting, almsgiving, practice of our faith and welcoming others as our brothers and sisters in our faith community.
Moreover, Lent is a time to grow in and strengthen our faith, which binds us together and makes all things possible because of our love and devotion to Jesus.
What does it mean to be a Christian? As sinners, we have the ability and capability to be holy only if we allow Christ into our lives.
If we follow his teachings, we become responsible, law-abiding citizens and peace-loving people. We become selfless, mindful of others, who benefit from our good deeds, kindness, charity and generosity. We become more aware of and concerned about others, especially the underrepresented, underserved, marginalized, disabled, elderly, helpless and hopeless in our midst.
Practicing our faith, we are able to see Christ in them. We try our best to love and care for them the way we want to be loved and cared for.
And let’s not underestimate the power of prayer in our lives. Prayer is the greatest thing we’ve got to save us from a lot of troubles. As our personal conversation with our God, who knows what’s inside of us, prayer is a powerful tool to create a miracle, to make things right or better in our lives. In the end, prayer leads us to a life of holiness towards God.
I believe in the power of prayer, because I have witnessed its fruits. There have been instances where I saw the results of my praying for others—like when they get better after a surgery or disease or a tragedy—that no rocket science or scientist can explain.
Call it a miracle, if you will, but I believe that, when we pray together, when we pray for others who need our prayers, things and people change for the better. We become interconnected, and we get closer to God.
Followers of Christ also practice almsgiving and fasting. We give of ourselves and of our time, talents and treasures. We love to share what we have, because we believe that giving is caring.
We give up something or deprive ourselves of something so that others can have it. That’s a sacrifice for others, for God. We just let others have it, instead of ourselves. That’s giving; that’s fasting, caring and loving. That’s an act of love for others and for God because we see Christ in them.
We believe in giving, because it is in giving that we receive more blessings and graces from our Almighty God. To share is to give, and to give is to love, and to let others experience our faith.
Doing these things can help us grow in faith, especially this Lenten season. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the words from 1 John 1:9 (NIV): If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…
And purify us . . .
From all . . .
Unrighteousness . . . .
YouTube Video: “Ashes” by Tom Conry, Hymn for Ash Wednesday & Lent, Choir with Lyrics:
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
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