This last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day on the church calendar that marks the beginning of Lent. I will say that growing up Lent usually meant just giving something up for a period of time and that was that. There was nothing more to it.
Today, I think that I understand the "tradition" of giving something up for Lent a little better than I did back in the day. However, I think it's more than that. It's a sacrifice of something that is maybe an idol in ones life or takes time away from other priorities - then using the time that you think about such things or would be doing whatever it is that is consuming you to focus on the Lord. With all that said, there is nothing saying that we have to do these things.
This last Wednesday was the first time our little church had an Ash Wednesday service. Here's the explanation and general invitation from our bulletin:
The early Christians observed, and many Christians still observe, a time of focused devotion upon the Lord Jesus Christ; focusing specifically on the days of His passion (suffering) and resurrection. It is a helpful practice for the children of God to consider the wondrous work of our Savior, His sacrificial death, and the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him alone. This season of Lent, and the observation of Ash Wednesday, provides a time in which God's people memorialized the life of the Savior; a life of suffering, temptations, cross-bearing, and sacrificial love. They would join together in considering His life and His call upon us. In doing so, the whole congregation is reminded of the hope of forgiveness and new life set forth in the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. By remembering our Lord's agony we will be led to celebrate His victory. As the people of God, and while we will never deny the importance of repentance, we must always remember our salvation is found in Jesus alone. Because of this, we should not remain "in Lent" but always worship and live in the light of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Lord takes people from death to resurrection, the Lord brings beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3), and has provided life for the dead through Jesus Christ. Therefore, our service will go from ashes to washing, from focusing on ashes and repentance, to focusing on the atonement that is found in Jesus Christ alone.
What struck me here was the phrase living in the light of the resurrection. How come we can get so geared up for Christmas (months in advance) when the crux of what we believe is observed at Easter? Jesus defeated death! So, begins the time where the church has set aside to observe the journey to the cross with reflection, meditation, and repentance.
Our service was then rounded out by corporate reading of the Scriptures, singing, prayer and confession. Of course we also had the symbolic placing of the ashes on the forehead if one so wanted to have it done.
Our pastor then read a short story but what really caught my attention was what he said as he was getting ready to dismiss us. He mentioned that these ashes on our foreheads would reminds us that we are not perfect and that we have smudges of gunk and blemishes on us. However, we are the people of the baptism and we are washed clean because of Jesus. He then washed his forehead and when we washed at home we were to remember how we are clean because of Jesus. We are to remember who we are in Christ and not who we were in the firm grip of sin and death.