Growing up in a non-denominational Bible church as I did, I had no concept of Ash Wednesday. Rather, that was something my Catholic friends did, but not Protestants, and certainly not evangelical, Bible church goers.
It was not until about 1999 that I attended my first Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church, where my friend was a youth pastor. I remember to this day being very nervous at the prospect of going. What would happen? What did they do? Did I have to get the ashes on my forehead?
But that service was a real turning point for me, and marked the beginning of a real transformation in how I celebrated the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I had always grown up just going to the Easter service where I celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And of course, that aspect is vital to our faith, and is in fact the pivotal event on which our faith is built. According to Paul in I Corinthians 15, that if we don’t believe in the resurrection, and if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is basically in vain, and we are to be pitied.
But there was something mysterious and life changing as I started my Easter season, not with resurrection Sunday, but with Ash Wednesday, where I marked the beginning of Christ’s journey of suffering to the cross. Those 40 days to Easter (not counting Sundays) was a time of intense reflection….of ups and downs, but each day constantly moving us closer and closer to Christ’s death.
As Christ’s crucifixion was the culmination of many events along his journey of suffering and betrayal, Ash Wednesday places us as Christians on a journey as well. It puts us on a 40 day journey to reflect and explore our sin, our suffering, our trials, our joys, our mountains and valleys. And as the pastor or priest puts the ashes on our forehead, the words are a reminder to us that:
“Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
It is a reminder of our position or status before God. That we were created out of the ground of the earth, and that one day we shall return. Those are sobering words. But those words are words that set us on a journey for 40 days to really bring us closer to the miracle event of resurrection.
There is no resurrection without death. And as we are reminded of our own mortality, we know as Christians that resurrected life awaits us. But do we really ever think and ponder and pray about these things, or are we so quick to move to Easter.
The journey from Ash Wednesday…to Maunday Thursday, to Good Friday, and then to Black Saturday is quite sobering. We start with a reminder that we are but dust….we move to the betrayal of the Last Supper…then to the dark Friday of Crucifixion…and finally to Saturday….silence. As Christ is in the tomb. We know as Christians that Christ will rise on Sunday, but think what that experience must have been like for the followers of Christ and his disciples. All of their hopes and dreams dashed….death, and then silence. This Lenten journey gives us the opportunity to reflect on the journey of Christ and his followers, and for us to really take more seriously those events.
When I do come to Easter it is a most amazing day….it is most amazing because I have been on the journey, and the culmination of any journey is only worth something because we have been on it. To simply move us to Easter without reflection on Christ’s life, suffering, betrayal, crucifixion and death, is to rob us of the importance of that resurrection Sunday.
There are many traditions that do and that do not celebrate the Lent Season. I grew up without it, but I am now thankful that I am a part of a community and tradition that celebrates it. The Lent season has brought me more meaning to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ than it had in years past. I think that as Christians we often take for granted many things, as we sometimes too often have the luxury of hindsight and history. But for the first followers of Christ they did not have this luxury. And sometimes I wonder if we too often take for granted the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lent journey that I think can make our Easter, our life…more meaningful.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near–a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from old, nor will be again after them in ages to come……Joel 2:1-2
Read Mark Roberts How Lent Can Make A Difference In Your Relationship With God