Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, a 40-day period of repentence and reflection that many Christians observe before Easter.
Although Ash Wednesday is a solemn holy day in the church calendar, it is not all doom and gloom. In fact, I really love the liturgy of the Ash Wednesday service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. The opening prayer gets me right away:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have created and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
I think being reminded of God’s forgiveness before we confess our sins reinforces God’s unconditional love for us.
On of the readings usually is Psalm 103, which includes these verses:
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and full of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
To me, this Psalm is a reminder that God sees us apart from our shortcomings and wrong-doings. While we tend to define ourselves by our worst traits, God loves our whole selves.
After the Bible readings, the service continues with an invitation to observe a holy Lent, which begins:
Dear People of God . . .
I just love that phrase–maybe because it connotes a sense of belonging to God.
With the imposition of ashes the priest reminds us:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
While this may strike some as a macabre part of the service, I see it as a needed reminder of my place in God’s creation. So often I get caught up in myself and my own abilities–I think I can do anything, that I have to do everything–that I forget to place my faith and trust in God. It also is a good reminder that our days on this earth are numbered and so we should spend them wisely.
I still haven’t decide how I am going to observe a holy Lent–what practices of “self-examination and repentance,” “prayer, fasting and self-denial,” and “reading and meditating on God’s holy word” I will focus on for the next 40 days, but at least I have started Lent with a sincere and contrite heart.
Are you giving up anything or committing to do anything for Lent?
If you got ashes today, has anyone told you that you have a smudge on your forehead?