Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

I was a Baptist for all my life until I married; at that time, I joined my husband in the Methodist church. That means I have been a Methodist for some thirty-five years. But I have been paying attention for only twelve years. So I never really knew what Ash Wednesday is until the past twelve years. Baptists don’t have Ash Wednesday services when they get a cross in ashes marked on their foreheads. Methodists do. What is the significance of that?

My pastor said in the service tonight that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the forty days before Good Friday. Traditionally, Good Friday represents the day that Jesus was crucified—a dark day. It is the time of an inner search, he said. Ashes have for centuries stood for darkness, heartbreak, and despair. The ash cross on the forehead is a powerful symbol of spiritual darkness. Knowing that the greatest need we have is to return to God, we dedicate ourselves to the inner search during this period.

It is a season of repentance, of letting go of secret regret or pain. It is a time to tell the truth to ourselves about our regrets, a time to make a choice to begin again through repentance. Many people give up something or do something special during Lent to remind them, through a personal sacrifice, to remain true to the search of self.

In the Bible, the prophet Joel says,

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2: 12-13)

The most important thing is the condition of the heart. I decided not to try to give up something; I couldn’t think of anything I’d really miss except cheese and chocolate. I’m going to follow the pastor’s advice. He said, “During this time, get to know Jesus as you have never known him before . . . .” That's what I want to do.

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