For the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays) before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are typically gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister administering ashes recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
The buzz on Facebook and other places today seems to be centered around what you are giving up for Lent. Typically Ash Wednesday is the time where one gives up something for the period until Easter Sunday—–one year I gave up chocolate, another year sweet tea. Sometimes I have fasted one day of the week. I do not remember that any of these really had any true effect on me—maybe I was just not focusing on it enough or something–I don’t know. Some have suggested giving up Facebook for Lent. One pastor I receive e newsletters from has even suggested giving up alcohol for this time period and donating the money one would have spent on that to a recovery program. I thought that was an interesting take on it!
Another approach is to perhaps “add” something instead of promoting the self denial. This would be doing something out of your ordinary routine that would be a positive thing—like volunteering someplace, doing a random act of kindness every day of Lent, or perhaps skipping a meal out that is your normal routine and donating teh money saved to some charity or church. All are good suggestions, I believe.
While I do believe that even though all of these ideas are good and interesting and perhaps could be life changing I also believe God wants us to live our lives in a sort of self denial and heightened awareness daily. If only we could focus on those aspects of repentance and living as God wants us to live DAILY instead of just at Lent. Giving up self for God is what we should be doing every day, not just during this season of the year.
Today when you get the ashes on your forehead think about that—think about if you will give up, add or choose to change your life at all during Lent. Perhaps the bigger question is—should I be living every day a little differently than I am now?