So what’s with Lent? Why do people fast and smudge ashes on their heads?
For starters, Lent simply means the lengthening of days. Where we live it is light in the evening an extra 30 minutes already. A change that has happened since the earth began but still seems remarkable to me.
But the ashes part is a bit more complicated or at least it takes more of an explanation. For most of my life I had no idea, except that the orthodox churches, like the Catholics and Episcopalians, were the ones who did the smudging of ashes.
Actually it’s an historical tradition of the church that has been around since the days of the Roman Empire when Christianity was new. A popular Chaldean festival permeated the empire’s annual calendar which celebrated spring with a forty day fast linked one of their pagan gods. As Christianity grew strong in its influence church leaders looked for ways to change these family traditions in much the same way believing families today try to find ways to rethink our culture’s celebration of Halloween, Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.
Lent in those years became infused with biblical meaning like the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the forty days Moses spent on Mt Sinai. And Christian families were encouraged to do their spring fasting as a preparation for the celebration of Resurrection Day instead of the old Chaldean customs.
Over the years there has been an ebb and flow to this practice of Lent as most traditions experience. Today it is enjoying a bit of a rebirth as younger families are moving back to more traditional churches and as Protestant churches are including more historical church practices into their annual calendar.
In our non-denominational bible church last year, we had for the second year an Ash Wednesday church service. I attended the one held at noon and experienced a more somber service than normal in a very dimly lit room. Looking inward to acknowledge our need for a Savior, remembering that we came from dust and to dust we will return, and pausing before God in humility and repentance were the focused themes of our Lent service. And that is the goal of Lent that we as the people of the church and as individuals might bow before the Almighty in recognition of who we are in light of who He is.
The ashes we had touched to our foreheads upon leaving were merely a symbol of what had hopefully happened in our hearts. Of course ashes can be for show, but God knows our hearts and it is before Him we stand.
I hope you will enter Lent this year with a new understanding and a desire to be right before God. And if you have ordered the Messiah Mystery for your family to use this Lenten season, I pray you will learn and grow and be changed by what you learn as a family.