What is Ash Wednesday? Why do we do it?
Background: Lent is a time for Christians to prepare our hearts to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross but is solely a tradition of man, not one that Jesus intended we celebrate. The Catholic Church started the tradition around the 6th century to combat a pagan celebration, what we know to be Mardi Gras/Lent, in which Babylonians commemorated the death and resurrection of Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14-15). A big, “anything goes” celebration (Fat Tuesday) proceeded a period of mourning (Lent).
Today: At a Wednesday church service on this day, a priest or pastor often puts ashes on the forehead of members of the congregation in the shape of a cross while reading from Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The ash symbolizes our mortality while the cross represents our eternity, preparing us to come in to the Lenten season, thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the intention of sacrifice at Lent is to “give a worshipper the control over himself that he needs to purify his heart and renew his life.” Galatians 5:16-17 tells us that this can only happen through the Spirit. Sacrifice, or fasting, cannot bring us closer to God in and of itself. Without simultaneously developing the fruits of the spirit, our fasting or sacrificing is meaningless (Galatians 5:22-25).
I can’t remember the last time I actually gave something up for Lent. I’ve always tried to take something on, instead: reading a passage daily, complimenting someone once a day, etc. This year I’m committing to running everyday (yes, I think running is suffering) and to commit at least the ending drag to praying and talking to God.
I hope that this calendar and upcoming devotionals can work as a guide to keep your sacrificing (or lack there of!) rooted in the real intentions of the season.
Click on the calendar to enlarge it, and print it out to keep track of it for the month of March!
-Sydney Thomas, Spiritual Chair