Ash and Lent
“By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
A few days ago, we discussed an Ash service and the Lent season at our Administrative Council meetings: how can we keep our Ash service and Lenten season effectively and safely. While discussing the Ash service, we were curious if we should keep it only on Wednesday. We have held Ash service on “Wednesday” as the Christian tradition. However, since the COVID 19 pandemic has hit around the world, the pandemic changed worship styles and our lifestyle. Based on the pandemic era we are living in, we should consider if it is safe for our congregation whenever we plan worship services or activities. Because of the pandemic the church had to develop a new technology culture holding online worship services, workshops, Bible studies, meetings, etc. On the positive side, they are easy and convenient ways for everyone to gather.
Christian culture might have changed over this era, but we should keep faith the core, not the style. The heart is faith in that Jesus Christ is the Lord, our Savior. Based on our faith in Jesus Christ, we practice activities, worship, meetings, bible studies, mission work, prayers, meditations, and fellowship, according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we grow to Christlikeness. John Wesley calls every Christian’s practice “the means of God’s grace” because we grow in the knowledge and grace of God through Christian rituals. As such, we can understand “Ash” and “Lent.” The date and style don’t matter, but their meanings matter. Again, the value is that we know those meanings and keep them. Therefore, let us review the importance of the Ash service and Lent.
Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. Lent is from the Anglo-Saxon word, “lencten,” which means “spring.” Namely, Lent is the season of preparing renewal and of celebrating Easter. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians. So, usually, the church performs the baptism on Easter after preparing with repentance during the Lenten season. The first Sunday of Lent describes Jesus’ temptation by Satan; and the Sixth Sunday (Passion/ Palm Sunday), Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his subsequent passion and death. Because Sundays are always little Easters, the penitential spirit of Lent should be tempered with joyful expectation of the resurrection.
There are the Great Three Days – Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), Good Friday, and Easter Day. These three days are the climax of Lent and a bridge into the Easter Season. These days proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. For these three days, the community may journey with Jesus from the upper room, the last supper, to the Cross, to the tomb, and the garden of resurrection.
You may wonder why we have 40 days for Lent. The number 40 is significant in the scripture, which is a period of testing or trial. It relates to the 40 days Noah spent in the Ark during the great flood, the 40 years Israel spent seeking the Promised Land after the exodus from Egypt, and to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. Therefore, the 40 days of Lent symbolizes an invitation to 40 days of renewal and to 40 days of preparing ourselves to receive the Good News of Easter.
Overall, Lent is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper. When Good Friday and Easter eventually come, it is not just another day at church, but we feel an opportunity to receive the overflowing of graces God offers. The use of ashes is a sign of mortality and repentance. The imposition of ashes can be a powerful nonverbal and experiential way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation. Again, receiving Ash means that we confess, first God made us with dust in his image. Second, we sinned, and third, we are born again in Jesus Christ by the grace of God. Receiving Ash is a reminder to ourselves not to lose an opportunity to reconcile with God and with people around us if we commit hurtful or unjust characteristics.
So, during the Lenten season, I encourage you to set a time and set a place for your contemplation, meditation, devotion, or prayer about what our Lord did for us on the Cross and what we want from God in our life. Let us pass through 40 days of Lent well, having an opportunity to receive more of God’s grace. The Cross is where our faith stands. Christ’s sacrifice and subsequent resurrection are the real core of the Christian faith. Without the Cross, there would be no salvation, without the resurrection, no hope. That is why Good Friday and the following Easter Sunday are the most important dates to Christians, even more than Christmas. Please remember how much God loves us. And what Jesus our Lord did for us. Please remember what the gospel of John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).