This Wednesday, 22 February 2012, marks the beginning of Lent and so we will be holding a special Ash Wednesday service. This is a simple service with the reading of scripture, blessing and distribution of ashes. I don’t come from a tradition that celebrates either Ash Wednesday or Lent, so I may not be the best authority, but from my perspective it comes down to three basic things:
Repentance! Ash in many cultures is a symbol of sorrow, and in the Ash Wednesday service ashes are applied to the forehead suggesting that the wearer, after due self examination, is sorrowful for their sins and has confessed them to God. But that is just the beginning it also requires a
Response! This ritual must be followed by penitential actions, which usually apply to the whole period of Lent, that is, the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter. These actions are not specified but generally involve things like fasting, praying and almsgiving. Thus some people will choose to stop eating or drinking certain things for Lent (such as meat or alcohol). But there is also an expectation that this sacrifice is not to be advertised! Finally it is about
Reflection! Prayer is the focus here, not just asking God for things but a conversation in which also involves listening. Lent is all about taking extra time out to stop and review your life, to cut down on ambient noise, get away from the world (figuratively) in order to cut down the interference to hear God speak. Thus the sacrifice some people make for Lent is to give up watching TV!
It seems to me that Lent offers each of us the opportunity to rethink who we are and where we are going, regardless of your theological or denominational background. So if you want to start Lent on the right foot, why not find a local church and become part of their service.
Chaplain Ian S Whitley