On Feb. 10, Christian churches in the west will begin the season of Lent. Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter.
In the western Church, we skip over the Sundays when we count the days of Lent, because Sunday is always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent in the western Church is always a Wednesday that is known as Ash Wednesday.
Many Christians observe Lent by taking on one of the many spiritual disciplines to increase their spiritual awareness and relationship with God. They remember that Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days to prepare for his ministry (see Luke 4:1-13. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat.
The ashes placed on a person’s forehead on Ash Wednesday are a sign of remorse, repentance, and mourning.
Today someone might wear a black armband to signify that they are in mourning, but for centuries people have put ashes on their foreheads. You can find biblical examples of this in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26.
During Lent, ancient Christians mourned their sins and repented of them, so it was appropriate for them to show their sincerity by having ashes on their foreheads. The custom has persisted in the church as secular society has changed around us.
Some people only celebrate the happy times in Jesus’ life: Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas.
But I think as true friends, we should also watch and pray with Him on Maundy Thursday, stand by Him at the cross on Good Friday, and retreat with Him into the wilderness during Lent.
Most Christian churches will hold special worship services on Ash Wednesday which will include the pastor or priest marking people with ashes. Most churches do not require you to be a baptized Christian to participate in one of these services. Contact the church of your choice and find out about the time for the Ash Wednesday service.
If you do not have time to go to a church service, two pastors will be offering prayers and ashes on the corner of Ninth Street and Edison Avenue between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10. Stop by and begin your Lenten journey with prayers and ashes.
May you experience a blessed Lenten season!
- Pat Beeman is the pastor at Sunnyside United Methodist Church.