Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remembering Ash Wednesday

Growing up Lutheran, I have many memories of attending Ash Wednesday services. Truthfully, I didn't much care for them growing up. I'm not really sure that I actually knew what I was celebrating, except that I had some remote knowledge that I was somehow getting ready for Easter. My least favorite part of the night was leaving with a chalky, black cross temporarily tattooed onto my forehead. {Okay, it wasn't tattooed; it was only rubbed. It just felt tattooed.} But I remember exiting the church service with the dusty sign on my skin and feeling more than self conscious for several minutes until we returned home to welcome soap and water.

I've been thinking more lately about what it means to have grown up in a liturgical church. Some parts I don't miss and others I really do. The other day I was having a conversation with another Christian about Ash Wednesday. She asked me what it meant. I answered, "I'm not sure that I really know after all those years of growing up Lutheran. All I really remember is my pastor putting the sign of the cross on my forehead and repeating, 'From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.' "

It was a beautiful memory {aside from the odd feeling of walking around with a cross on my head}. But I needed to remember more. I needed to remember why. When I came home that day, I gave myself a little refresher course on the liturgical church calendar and why exactly Christians all around the world celebrate Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. I {re}learned that just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert preparing for ministry, the 40-day season of Lent mirrors this time as we celebrate with fasting and prayer {and a certain bit of temptation, too, as we also identify with Jesus and his sufferings.} The ashes placed on the forehead are in fact a sign of mourning and repentance to God. These are often the burnt palms from last year's Palm Sunday celebrations.

Lent, then, is the season where we focus on the life, ministry and death of Jesus, leading up to the glorious celebration of the Resurrection, which is the ultimate hope of every Christian believer. Certainly this is what all Christians should focus on each and every day, but this season provides the special opportunity to set apart several weeks to uniquely identify with Jesus by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him. I love that you don't have to be Lutheran or Catholic or Anglican to celebrate Lent. All Christian believers are called to deny themselves and follow Jesus daily. The season of Lent just happens to get us back to that mission.

These next forty days before Easter, I'm considering what that might look like in my life. I'm getting new ideas on how to celebrate Lent by reading through the life of Christ. I love the idea of counting down the Sundays in Lent leading up to Easter with candles, much like we do during Advent before Christmas. Ann Voskamp also shares a practical idea this week of celebrating Ash Wednesday with your children. I think we may try it today.

How will you celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent this year?

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