Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a significant time for Christians—Lent, or the Lenten season. Many Christians aren’t really sure what that is because their particular church denominations don’t observe Lent. I myself grew up in the Baptist church, and Baptists don’t officially observe Lent. I learned about it when I became a Methodist about forty years ago, and Methodists do observe Lent.
The Lenten season came to mean a great deal to me ever since I turned into a real live Christian 17 years ago. On Ash Wednesday in the Methodist church, we had a special service in which the pastor put the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead in ashes and said something like “From dust you came and to dust you will return.”
The ashes were created when he burned a few palm leaves. The palm is significant because of the people of Jerusalem waving palm branches and shouting "Hosanna" as Jesus rode into the city on a donkey colt just before he was crucified. "Hosanna" means something like "save us."
During Lent, it’s customary to fast or give up something meaningful so the deliberate act of sacrifice will help focus the mind and spirit on Jesus Christ—to know him more intimately and to love him more fully, to be repentant of wrongs we’ve committed, and to accept his forgiveness.
This year, I left the Methodist church and rejoined the Baptist church for a number of reasons, and I feel very much at home there. I thought I would miss celebrating Lent.
But our Baptist pastor talked about it in a way that touched me. He said his family decided to give up television in the evenings so they can spend the time talking and focusing on Christ instead of watching TV like couch potatoes.
Something happens in your heart, he said, when you voluntarily give up something. “Discipline develops through sacrifice. Obstacles become opportunities and problems become priceless,” he said. It’s a calling, bringing us into the presence of God, and this calling is personal and individual.
Last year, I gave up desserts. But this year, I’ve been reading Isaiah 58:6-14. The true fasting, God says, is feeding the hungry, helping the needy, seeing that justice is done. In other words, what he wants is my whole heart, my entire way of looking at everything. I’m looking for some opportunities to serve him in these ways, which involve serving his people whom he loves with an amazing and precious love.
Here are some previous blog entries I did about Ash Wednesday, in case you are interested!
*I borrowed the picture from this site: http://www.reddingtlc.org/