Ash Wednesday 4Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This forty day period (not counting Sundays) ends on Easter Sunday. This year it is from February 10 (Ash Wednesday) to March 27 (Easter), 2016.Lent 1

Lent is practiced by most, but not all, Christian groups. The emphasis is on spiritual purification, meditation and penance. The focus is not supposed to be on one’s self, but one’s relationship with God. Although it is not required, people often give up something during Lent as a means of self-discipline and identifying with the sacrifices that Christ made. Many choose instead to take on something during Lent like reading more of the Bible, diligently observing daily devotional times, or completing some work of charity.

Mardi GrasI grew up in Mobile, Alabama where Mardi Gras was a big part of our culture. However, I did not make the connection of this time of revelry with spirituality. I did not know that Mardi Gras meant “Fat Tuesday.” Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, the day before is always a Tuesday. And it’s called “Fat” or “Great” because it’s associated with great food and parties. I suspect that most people see Mardi Gras as a big party that has little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity.

Fat Tuesday

According to The Upper Room,* “In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Since they didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast!”

“Why ashes? In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear “sackcloth” (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.” (The Upper Room)*

I gathered with others for Ash Wednesday service last night. At the beginning of the service we joined in saying,

O God of endless mercy, we gather on this day to acknowledge our mortality and our complete reliance on you for compassion and forgiveness. If there is any hope for us, O God, our hope rests completely in you. Have mercy, O God, have mercy. You are the source of our mortal life. You are the source of our spiritual life. You are the destiny to whom we return in the hope of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior. May the mark of mortality remind us of our dust-to-dust existence, and draw us nearer to you.

Ash Wednesday 2

Later we knelt at the altar and one of the ministers applied the sign of the cross on our foreheads and reminded us of our mortality and our need for repentance and forgiveness. Then we united in the Prayer of Confession:

Most Holy God, your Son came into the world to save sinners. We come to this season of repentance, confessing our unworthiness, asking for new and honest hearts, and seeking the healing power of your forgiveness. Almighty and Everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are repentant; create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our separation from you, may obtain from you perfect remission and forgiveness. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Ash Wednesday 1

We have started the Lenten journey which will lead us to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. During these days with God’s help, I hope to become a better person and follower of Christ. I pray that the days of Lent will do the same for you.

Jamie Jenkins

*The Upper Room is a global ministry dedicated to supporting the spiritual formation of Christians seeking to know and experience God more fully. From its beginning as devotional guide, The Upper Room has grown to include publications, programs, prayer support, and other resources to help believers of all ages and denominations move to a deeper level of faith and service. The Upper Room is a part of Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

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