Ash Wednesday...the beginning of Lent
Wednesday, March 1, will be Ash Wednesday. Many local churches will be having services both during the lunch hour and in the evening to commemorate the beginning of Lent.
Some Christians treat Ash Wednesday as a day for remembering one's mortality. A pastor marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes, traditionally in the shape of a cross, leaving a mark that the worshipper traditionally leaves on his or her forehead until sundown, before washing it off. The minister will say, "Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
Often these Ash Wednesday ashes are made by burning Palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season for Christians. Different denominations celebrate this season differently, but it has the same meaning for all Christians. Lent is figured out by counting backwards from Easter 40 weekdays. Sundays are not included in this count because they are days of celebration and remembering Christ's resurrection. Forty days is often a significant time frame in the bible, but this specifically brings to mind the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling.
Lent is a time of repentance, reflection, and rededication. Many people will choose things to give up for Lent as a way of cleansing, of remembering Jesus' ultimate sacrifice, and as a way of cutting away the unimportant, self-indulgent things in our lives so we can concentrate on the spiritual. I have a friend whose family gives up a lot for Lent. Several years ago, they started by giving up chocolate, then they decided each year to add to what they give up. So now they give up chocolate, television, computers, fast food/dining out, and alcohol. She says this clears their minds and hearts and is a wonderful spiritual experience for her family of 7. Lent is also a time of fasting and prayer, both activities designed to bring individuals closer to God.
Other important events during Lent are: Palm Sunday (remembering Jesus return to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as people threw palms on the ground in front of him), Holy Thursday (remembering the Last Supper), Good Friday (the crucifixion and the only day of the year when churches display black clothes), and Easter (the ultimate celebration of Christians as we rejoice in the knowledge that our Lord is risen).
In years past, I honestly have not paid much attention to the various events during the Lent season. Having young children, it often did not work for me to attend special services. But this year, I have several events on my calendar as I plan to participate in this season to its fullest. I look forward to growing closer to my Savior during the weeks ahead.
Here are some great articles about Lent if you want more information:
The Season of Lent
Another site The Season of Lent