Ash Wednesday & 40 Days of Lent

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I’m at school today, wearing a white skirt and tie-dye shirt, flip flops and a bright bandanna. Multi-colored bracelets encircle my wrists. Hoop earrings bigger than my biceps dangle from my ears. Today is hippie day, a mere blip in the mid-winter spirit week.

Today is also Ash Wednesday, a date that has for years passed by like a shadow, a mere whisper in the noise of life. A liturgical ceremony of religiousity. Something for Lutherans and Catholics. A blip in the months separating Christmas and Easter on the religious calendar.

Perhaps I should read the bracelets lining my arm. Carpe Diem. ❤ God ❤ People. Epic. Volleyball. Well maybe not that last one. These words speak meaning. They invigorate the day with purpose. Seize the day for God. Don’t let time waste away in selfishness. Live for God.Love Him. Love the people passing through my life. Do it well. Do it for His glory.

But I forget so quickly. My eyes pass over the bracelets as soon as they pass over Ash Wednesday on the calendar. I need to slow down. I need to look more carefully. For the lessons emblazoned on my bracelets are life changing. As is the purpose of Ash Wednesday. Not merely an empty religious ceremony, Ash Wednesday precedes Lent, reminding you and I that we need to step back, need to slow down.

The world rushes on in unstopping chaos. But we must stop. If David needed to “be still” in order to meditate on God back in a time that by today’s standards ran at a relaxed and even boring pace, then how much more dowe need to be still? In a way, this is Lent. Pushing aside the distractions. Retreating to quiet. Contemplating the God who we celebrate at Easter.

A week ago, a Methodist pastor educated me about the significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. In traditional Ash Wednesday services, ash is placed on the forehead to signify man’s mortality, “for from dust he came, and to dust he will return.” So begins a season of fasting, repentance, and confession of sins.

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It fits so well. Each month, I choose a book or set of chapters from Scripture to read each day, finding that in the repetition, my eyes are opened and my heart pierced by the sharp sword of the Word. For February, I chose to read seven psalms of communal lament. Psalms overflowing with the tears of a people forsaken by God and repenting earnestly of their transgressions, that they might once again enjoy the blessing of God. The songs of the people cry for hope, but they repeat the eternal chorus of the universe–that all things would be accomplished for the glory of God.

This year, though I still will not be attending a formal Ash Wednesday service, the echoes of seven laments resound in my soul. Without Christ, I am dead forever. My mortality is not merely physical, but spiritual. Yet Christ has made me alive, that I might live, not for myself, but for the glory and praise of God! And so the prophecy of Isaiah 61 is fulfilled, that our ashes are replaced by a beautiful headress, and our mourning is turned to gladness!

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